In his new book, Heart and Steel, and for the first time, Bill Cowher is describing exactly why he stepped down as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach on January 5th, 2007.
His book, which dropped June 1st, is an autobiography of his life and in Cowher’s own words, a level of depth and transparency he’s never offered before. Despite still having one year left on his contract, he stepped down as Steelers’ head coach after serving in that role for 15 years.
Cowher says when he coached the final game of the 2006 regular season, a win over the Bengals, he wasn’t sure if he was going to retire or not. He took several days to think about it before deciding to step away from the game.
In his book, he details the reasons why. Here’s an excerpt.
“I found myself reflecting on what we’d accomplished as an organization. In fifteen seasons in Pittsburgh, we made the playoffs ten times. We won eight division titles, played in six AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls. We won a Super Bowl, the fifth in Steelers history. We got ‘one for the thumb.’ It was a great run…I’d been able to achieve many of the dreams I had growing up in Crafton.”
Simply put, Cowher had accomplished everything a head coach could ask for. Longevity, sustained success, and of course, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. As the Steelers’ coach, he posted a 149-90-1 record, went to two Super Bowls, and beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Cowher feared the longer he identified as a football coach, the harder it would be to transition into retirement.
“No single event triggered my decision. Everything in my life had been structured around football. And I was afraid. My fear was, the longer I stayed as Coach Cowher, with a life completely tailored to football, the more difficult it would be to ever experience a different type of life.”
So Cowher stepped down and stepped away. A month after his announcement, he joined CBS as a studio analyst, a job he still has today.
He had spent almost 30 years in the NFL. After playing college ball at NC State, he played in the NFL from 1979 to 1984. Marty Schottenheimer hired him as the Cleveland Browns’ special teams coordinator in 1985 and eventually elevated him to DBs coach. Cowher served as the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive coordinator for three seasons before he beat out Dave Wannstedt and Joe Greene to replace Chuck Noll in 1992.
In the book, he says he had peace of mind knowing the Steelers were built for success as he walked away. Mike Tomlin has hired as Cowher’s replacement and two years later, won the team’s sixth Super Bowl.
As Cowher sums up, he simply wanted to begin a new chapter in his life. And do it on his own terms. Rare for anyone in any profession, especially the coaching world.
“I know how lucky I was. Not many people get the opportunity to leave a job they love just because they’re ready to move on to the next stage of their life.”
Cowher’s book is now publicly available. We’ll probably share a couple more nuggets from it over the coming days.