By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers closed the door yesterday to questions about coach Bill Cowher and his coaching future, one day after he said for the first time he has a decision to make at the end of the season.
Cowher was not made available to the Pittsburgh-area news media yesterday, despite numerous requests from local newspapers and television and radio stations. A day earlier, he told reporters on a conference call in Charlotte, N.C., "there will be something at the end of the year" and that he will "sit back and put a lot of thought into it and make a decision accordingly."
Cowher made the comments when he was asked if he will step aside and retire at the end of the season. Speculation that has been rampant since it became known that Cowher and his wife, Kaye, had purchased a $2.5 million home in Raleigh, N.C. Kaye and their youngest daughter, Lindsay, have been living there since the late summer so Lindsay, a sophomore, could play basketball at a local high school.
Speculation was fueled again when Cowher and the Steelers could not agree on a contract extension after the Super Bowl and said they would discontinue negotiations until after this season. Cowher has one year left on his contract.
He is not expected to make any announcement immediately after the season and wants to wait at least several weeks, if not longer, before deciding if he will return. Those familiar with the situation said he also wants to talk with team chairman Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II about, among other things, a coaching arrangement in the offseason. But, Cowher does not want to leave the Steelers "hanging" about his future and won't drag the decision into the spring.
"Until he does something different, I count on him being back," said linebacker Joey Porter. "He hasn't done anything differently than what I can see. He's human and he's going to make a decision what he feels is right for him and his family. Whatever decision he makes, is going to be the right one for him."
The Steelers (6-7) have three games remaining in the regular season, including Sunday against the Carolina Panthers (6-7), and Cowher's future will become the focal point during the final weeks. Barring some near-miraculous circumstances, the Steelers will not be in the postseason to defend their Super Bowl championship, thrusting the bulk of the attention on the decision of their head coach.
Despite comments made earlier this season by former running back Jerome Bettis, the poor performance by the Steelers will not affect Cowher's decision to return.
"That's something, as a team, we can't control," inside linebacker James Farrior said. "That's a decision that's going to have to be made after the season. It has nothing to do with this team or the players in the locker room on Sunday. But we're going to be watching like everybody else."