Bill Cowher spent many years with the Cleveland Browns, both as a player and then later as a coach, before he ended up being hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers to serve as their head coach, a role that he occupied for a decade and a half from 1992 through the 2006 season, after which he chose to resign.
A number of teams since then had inquired about his coaching services, hoping that they could reel him out of retirement, which does occasionally work (see Jon Gruden), but Cowher never budged, appreciating life with his family and in his post-coaching career as a broadcaster.
The Browns, as I wrote about yesterday, were one team who wanted to hire him, back in 2008. It was surely the most tempting offer that he got to return. Not because Cleveland is a great organization to work in—it very clearly lacks stability, even with ownership changing hands—but because of his fondness for the town and the team’s history.
“It’s a special place. It’s a special, special fan base. A lot like Pittsburgh”, Cowher recently told the Akron Beacon Journal. “Very similar. They understood sports. They understood football particularly. They were very, very passionate and knowledgeable”.
The Browns don’t exactly have the most illustrious football history in the NFL, at least so far as the last couple of decades are concerned, under the ‘new Browns’. But they were once a respectable franchise, including during Cowher’s time there as a coach.
Cowher was on Marty Schottenheimer’s coaching staff during his four seasons as Cleveland’s head coach from 1985 through 1988 before he went off to the Kansas City Chiefs, taking Cowher with him and promoting him to defensive coordinator.
The Browns made the playoffs all four years during that streak, reaching the AFC Championship game once. They also reached the conference finals the year after Schottenheimer as well, giving him a five-year run of postseason play, having made it to at least the Divisional round four of the five years, winning the AFC Central four of the five years as well.
They’ve only been back to the postseason twice since then, the last time being in 2002, when Cowher’s Steelers came back with a huge fourth quarter in the Wildcard Round, scoring 22 points to beat the Browns 36-33.
Cleveland’s success seems like a distant memory. Cowher would like to see that change. “Like I said, I played there, I coached there, I had two kids who were born there, I lived there for nine years in the ’80s, so, yeah, I have an affection for that place”, he said. “I’d love to see them do well again”.
They have at times appeared to be on the cusp. Right now, they have a ‘franchise’ quarterback, two Pro Bowl wide receivers, two Pro Bowl running backs, an All-Pro pass rusher, and a Pro Bowl corner. That feels like a good start, but they’ve had a lot of ‘starts’ over the past 20 years.