You’d think in applying to become an NFL head coach, the job interview would revolve around football. Your scheme, your coaching philosophy, the way you handle players, personnel, your approach to drafting, free agency, the laundry list of things head coaches are tasked with.
Not in Pittsburgh.
Bill Cowher spoke to the media via Zoom weeks before his Hall of Fame enshrinement and said his interview process to run the Steelers was a lot different.
“I remember from the time that I went through the interview process with Dan Rooney, he probably called me while I was in Kansas City five or six times,” Cowher told reporters. “And the conversations didn’t last long, maybe 10-15 minutes but really 10 of those 15 minutes was about family. And he just asked me about, the more you talk to someone you want to get a feel for someone. How are the kids doing? How are your parents doing? How about your brothers, how is the wife how’s Kay doing?”
The nature of those phone calls and eventual in-person interviews shifted as Cowher emerged as a serious candidate. He was one of three names strongly considered to replace Chuck Noll, joining Pitt HC Dave Wannstedt (at the time, serving as the Cowboys’ DC) and legendary defensive tackle and then d-line coach Joe Greene. All three names were well respected and had ties to the city. But the team chose Cowher and clearly, that was the right choice. A Hall of Fame career that ended in the team’s fifth Super Bowl trophy, beating the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Cowher says those conversations didn’t change once he was named the team’s head coach.
“And through the course of my 15 years here, Dan would walk down. Art would walk down. Within a course of a week, once or twice a week he’d walk into the office. And it wasn’t like, ‘okay, how’s practice going. What do you think our chances are this week?’ It was like, ‘how are you doing? How’s the family doing? Let’s talk about the state of the NFL. What can we do to make it better?’ So he always had a bigger picture in mind and just the game we’re playing that week.”
Dan Rooney was arguably the most player-friendly owner in football, helping to navigate labor strikes and league-wide obstacles. Rooney famously gave players the keys to the team facility during one lockout. Cowher embodied that family man style. And now, Mike Tomlin’s done the same.
Cowher says those discussions separated the Steelers from other organizations.
“That’s the one thing. Every time i walked through that door. Whether it was the South Side or Three Rivers Stadium. It was bigger than I was. And part of that bigger picture was a family core culture that existed. And it started at the top.”
The Steelers are one of just a few NFL teams to be owned and operated by the same family for their entire history. The Mara family and the Giants and the Bidwell family of the Cardinals are others.