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By September 3, 2017 0 Comments

Bill Cowher Gained Respect As An NFL Coach While Giving It

Bill Cowher relied on three guiding principles for himself and for his teams.

They came from his father, an insurance auditor, and were a product of growing up in the steel-tough city of Pittsburgh.

Cowher wound up coaching his hometown Steelers from 1992 to 2006, winning over 60% of his games and capturing a Super Bowl title. In the process he amassed Hall of Fame-worthy coaching credentials.

“No. 1: Never quit; finish whatever you start,” Cowher, 60, told IBD. “Don’t ever quit, because if you quit once, you’ll quit again. … Even (those) players finishing a running test — it may not be the time they want, but just learn to finish. Finish things, finish anything.

“The second thing is you have to work harder than the other person. Your work ethic is really defined by what you do when no one is watching. What sacrifices are you making? Are you putting in the extra time and study?

“And the third thing is never be intimidated by anyone or anything — self-confidence. Because if you don’t have confidence in yourself, how can others have confidence in you?”

Respectful but unfazed by taking over for the legendary Chuck Noll, Cowher’s NFL regular season head-coaching record in 15 seasons was 149-90-1 — good for a .623 winning percentage. And good enough to put him 25th on the all-time list, even though most in that top echelon coached for fewer than Cowher’s 15 seasons and many for far fewer. His 149 wins puts him 20th among all NFL head coaches in history, and all those ahead of him coached more than Cowher’s 15 seasons.

Cowher led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times, for a 12-9 record and a .571 winning percentage. Under Cowher the Steelers reached the Super Bowl twice, winning Super Bowl XL in 2006 vs. the Seattle Seahawks.

“Coaching is about teaching,” Cowher said. “You have to be able to motivate to teach, and surround yourself with assistant coaches who are also very good teachers. You have to surround yourself with a lot of people that think the way you think. You have to be patient, but yet demanding. You have to have structure, but be flexible.

“You have to keep your team focused. Continue to make the changes that you have to make as long as the changes allow you to grow collectively. And the biggest thing you have to do is hold people accountable.”

“He was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around,” said former NFL head coach Chan Gailey, who was an assistant under Cowher from 1994-97. “He wanted to win and he conveyed that to everyone in the organization.

“He was tough but fair. He coached the game the way he played the game — he was all in.”

“Cowher did a wonderful job of making that personal connection with his players by consistently showing us that he cared and wanted all of his players to be successful on and off the football field,” said former Steelers star running back Barry Foster. “He would offer coaching advice about football specifics, but he also asked about your family, where you grew up. …”

Gailey said Cowher gave his assistant coaches autonomy and respect. “He made us feel like our job was really important. He had suggestions, he had things he wanted done, but he wasn’t one that interfered with what you were trying to do.”

After Cowher retired he became a studio analyst for the CBS pregame show, “The NFL Today,” This season will be Cowher’s 11th, as the show celebrates its 50th anniversary. He’s also part of the network’s “Thursday Night Football” team.

“I see so many similarities in the way the (Rooney family) ran the Steelers and the way Les Moonves, Sean McManus, David Berson run CBS,” Cowher said. “It’s very family oriented, but still holding people very accountable. It’s forward-thinking in the things they want to do, along with great respect for the product that they have.”

Cowher’s performance as the public face of the Steelers for 15 years might have impressed TV executives. “Cowher showed great professionalism during TV interviews while praising opposing teams, coaches and players,” Foster said. “When I would see him in the Pittsburgh community, he was always approachable and friendly with the fans … a very genuine guy.”

Persistence Pays Off

Born in Crafton, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh, Cower attended North Carolina State University from 1974 to 1978, where he played linebacker, first under legendary coach Lou Holtz and then Bo Rein. He was the team captain and named its Most Valuable Player in his senior year.

Cowher then tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent and didn’t make the team. He returned to N.C. State and earned his degree in 1979 while also becoming a graduate assistant for the football team.

He also determinedly pursued his goal of playing in the NFL, and in 1980 Cowher was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He made a name for himself in the league as a special-teams player while also being a backup linebacker for three years under defensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer.

After Schottenheimer became the Browns’ head coach, he offered Cowher the position of special teams coach in 1985. Cowher was then with the Eagles and decided he’d have a better future in coaching than playing, and took the opportunity.

Steadily moving up in coaching responsibilities, Cowher was the Browns’ special teams coach for two years and then coached their defensive backfield. When Schottenheimer became the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989, Cowher went with him, promoted to defensive coordinator.

When the Steelers were looking for a new head coach in 1992 to replace four-time Super Bowl champ Chuck Noll, Cowher was hired at 34 years old. He was taking over a Steelers team that had only been to the playoffs one time in the previous seven years.

Seizing Opportunity

Cowher took stock of what he’d learned from observing successful coaches like Holtz, Dick Vermeil, and Schottenheimer, one of only seven coaches in NFL history with 200 or more career wins.

“The big thing I learned from all those guys is they were genuine,” Cowher said. “They all were uniquely different, but they all were very good teachers. They all had an ability to communicate with everybody on the team and they had a good pulse for their team.”

“He wasn’t trying to go in there and mimic Chuck Noll,” said Gailey. “He was going in there to be Bill Cowher.”

“You have to be yourself,” Cowher said. “When you’re standing up in front of people and you start talking about things that don’t really resonate with you, I think players are very perceptive.”

The Steelers responded to Cowher by posting an 11-5 record and won the AFC Central Division before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs.

Right from the start, Foster recalled, Cowher “worked hard to create togetherness.”

“Win as a team, lose as a team and be there for one another,” Foster added, “and like Bill Cowher used to always tell us, `Don’t get too high with the highs and don’t get too low with lows, but keep an even keel. Be consistent.’ “

Cowher built on that first year to become only the second coach in NFL history to lead his team to the playoffs in his first six seasons.

“A coach’s job every year is to manage expectations,” Cowher said. “Obviously you’re measured by wins and losses, but to me also it’s: What direction is your team going? Are they growing as a team? Are the expectations becoming a little bit higher? That is the job of the coach, to understand each team and to have a plan in place where you can continue to grow, but do it with having sustainability.”

From 1998-2000 the Steelers missed the playoffs and had losing records in the first two years of that slide. Cowher says understanding the pulse of a team might require a coach to be different in some ways year to year.

“I’m going to treat a veteran team a lot differently than if I have a young team that’s coming off a disappointing year,” he said. “I need to re-create a degree of confidence, a degree of toughness, a degree of disciple that may be different from when I had a team that was 15-1 or one coming off a championship season.”

A Super Path

The 2004 Steelers were 15-1 but lost in the Conference Championship game to the 14-2 New England Patriots, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

Cowher had higher expectations for his 2005 Steelers and was more demanding. The team went 11-5 and qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card team. That Steeler team then won three road games to get to and win Super Bowl XL.

Cowher was a hallmark of consistency during his career and with his approach.

“The naysayers will be out there, but you got to work,” he says. “It’s not going to come overnight. You’re not going to be measured by how many times you get knocked down; you’re going to be measured by how many times you get back up.”

Cowher’s Keys

Coached Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992-2006, for a record as an NFL head coach of 149-90-1 in regular-season play, a .623 winning percentage. Led the Steelers to the playoffs 10 times and won Super Bowl XL.

Overcame: The challenge of replacing a legendary coach and created his own winning legacy.

Lesson: Focus on who you are and what you believe in.

“I tried to get my players feel comfortable, to feel confident, to take ownership in the locker room, to walk onto the field with a swagger, but also to have a great respect for anything that you accomplish, great respect for the opponent, great respect for those that came before you.”

MORE ABOUT LEADERS & SUCCESS:

Coach Paul Brown Put His Name On Pro Football

Bret Favre Passed The Test Of Life And Football On His Way To The Top

For Former Running Back Eddie George, It’s About Forward Progress

Vince Lombardi Injected Redskins With A Winning Fever

 

 


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