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Bill Cowher’s Advice To Rooney After He Retired: ‘I Would Do Like You Did With Me’ In HC Search

Ward, Rooney, Cowher

Mike Tomlin is heading into his 16th season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That will surpass the length of time served by his predecessor, Bill Cowher, who had the task of succeeding Chuck Noll, bringer of four championships to the city.

When I came in there, Chuck had been there for 23 years. He really was the Emperor, as they talked about”, Cowher recently told Trey Wingo on the Trey Wingo Presents: Half-Forgotten History podcast. “He was ‘the guy’. So when I came in there, I had roots in Pittsburgh, and I think that had a lot to do with why I was selected, because I understood what the mystique of the Pittsburgh Steelers was, and more importantly, what they were, and what they did for that city, and what the obligation and responsibility that you had when you took that job”.

It took him 14 years, but he finally delivered a title to Pittsburgh, the organization’s fifth, which was tied for the most in NFL history at the time. But when it came time for him to step down, he said, he had some advice for the Rooney family on his way out.

“As I sat there for 15 years, after 15 years and I decided to step down, I remember saying to Mr. Rooney, ‘I know there’s Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm are on the staff, but I would do like you did with me. You went outside of the building and brought me in, kind of a fresh set of ideas’”.

Whisenhunt and Grimm were considered the frontrunners for the head coaching job at the time. Tomlin was a virtual unknown, but he put forth a very impressive presentation, and ultimately earned the job over arguably more qualified—or at least more experienced—candidates. While we know that Cowher left Tomlin a beer, though, we don’t know what he told him. Turns out, nothing.

“The same kind of advice that Chuck Noll gave me: none. There was no advice”, he said. “It was like, figure it out yourself. You will figure out that it’s a family-run business, there’s a set of parameters, there’s a structure in there that is time-tested, that’s family-oriented, and there’s a degree of patience that you’re going to have to have in working with them and doing things. But when it’s all said and done, when you walk out of those rooms and have those tough conversations, those tough decisions that you have to make, you’ll make them together. There’s no real line of delineation there”.

General manager Kevin Colbert has been a part of that ‘family’ since 2000, but his role will be changing shortly, if he doesn’t retire altogether. But there are no indications that Tomlin intends to retire any time soon.

When he does, I’m sure he will tell Art Rooney II something rather similar to what Cowher told Dan: cast a wide net. Explore every option. Be open to change, to new ideas. But when will that be? For now, he’s under contract through the 2024 season.

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