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Cowher and Shell are on their way out

Steelers coach to resign after 8-8 season following Super Bowl win. Raiders are coming off 2-14 year.

January 05, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Bill Cowher, less than a year after leading Pittsburgh to its first Super Bowl victory in a quarter century, will resign today as coach of the Steelers, according to various reports.

Cowher is not alone. Art Shell met with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis on Thursday, and afterward the team announced that he would not return as coach for the final season of his contract, the Associated Press said. The Raiders finished an NFL-worst 2-14 and have the No. 1 pick in this year's draft.

The Steelers have called a news conference to make the announcement that Cowher, the NFL's longest-tenured coach, will step down after 15 seasons, reportedly to spend more time with his family.

Cowher, 49, met Tuesday with team owner Dan Rooney and President Art Rooney II and asked for a few days to consider his options. They had given him until Monday to make a decision because the team needed to move forward on a successor should Cowher decide to quit.

Citing unnamed sources, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported on its website Thursday evening that Cowher called Dan Rooney earlier in the day and said he did not want to wait any longer to announce his decision. The coach will attend the news conference, the site reported.

Among the possible Cowher successors are two assistants on his staff, Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom are candidates to fill head-coaching vacancies in Arizona, Atlanta and Miami. Whisenhunt, Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, interviewed Thursday with the Falcons, who recently fired Jim Mora after three seasons.

Even as he prepares to walk away from one of the NFL's storied franchises with a year remaining on his contract, Cowher is rumored to be a possible successor to rNick Saban, who quit as Dolphins coach Wednesday to accept a blockbuster deal at Alabama.

Although Cowher's rights for next season would be owned by the Steelers, they could be exchanged for compensation in the form of draft picks or cash. Lending further credence to speculation that he could wind up in Miami is the fact his former offensive and defensive coordinators, Mike Mularkey and Dom Capers, now hold those positions with the Dolphins.

Cowher, among the most recognizable figures in football, is coming off a turbulent season in which his team tumbled from the league's pinnacle and finished as an 8-8 also-ran. They became the first defending Super Bowl champions to miss the playoffs since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.

Part of the drop-off was due to the uncharacteristically shaky play of Ben Roethlisberger, who last February became the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He was later involved in a serious motorcycle injury and, after recovering from that, underwent an emergency appendectomy that sidelined him early in the season.

In Thursday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Art Rooney was quoted as saying the Steelers would "very much like to have [Cowher] back."

"I said to him, if he just wants to come back and finish the contract, that's fine," Rooney told the newspaper. "We feel like we have a good core group of players here that could make another run at a championship.

"And if he wants to come back and take another run at it with this group of players, that's on the table too. We didn't really put any restrictions on his decision."

Speculation about Cowher's retirement has swirled since last spring, when he and his wife bought a home in Raleigh, N.C., where they now live, and his contract-extension talks with the Steelers slowed to a crawl. He reportedly makes about $4 million a year under his current deal.

As for Shell, who was in his second stint as Raiders coach, he had seemed confident this week that his job was safe.

"I expect to be here and I want to do this," he said in a season wrap-up news conference Tuesday. "I want to try to see this thing to fruition."

A statement released by the team Thursday said: "While Art will no longer serve as head coach, he and Mr. Davis have discussed and will continue to discuss opportunities for Art to remain a valued member of the Raider organization."

Among the possible candidates to succeed him is the team's defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, son of longtime NFL coach Buddy Ryan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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