This time, coaches take the battle out of the boardroom

Updated: November 1, 2003, 2:27 AM ET

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and Seattle's Mike Holmgren often find themselves on opposite sides. Usually, they're slugging it out over a proposed NFL rule change.

This weekend, they'll stand on the sidelines and let their teams have it out as the struggling Steelers (2-5) try to snap a four-game losing streak against the resurgent Seahawks (5-2).

As members of the NFL's influential competition committee, Cowher and Holmgren have had some impassioned but good-natured exchanges. The best showdown, both agree, came last spring when they debated the onside kick.

"For three years I had effectively rounded up the votes I needed to eliminate the second onside kick at the end of the game," Holmgren said. "Most people in the room understood that, except for Bill."

Cowher rose and offered an oration on the importance of onside kicks in the final 5 minutes. Without the rule, he argued the Steelers could not have tried a surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XXX against Dallas.

Holmgren's support scattered like raindrops splattering the sidewalk.

"By that time, I had lost the votes," he recalled.

"We were able to meet halfway," Cowher said smugly. "Now you only get one attempt in the last 2 minutes. I kind of looked at that as a win over Mike."

When they've finished the Lincoln-Douglas stuff at the NFL meetings, Cowher and Holmgren always try to sit down for a meal together, regardless of who wins in the boardroom.

They're close, having broken in as head coaches in the same year -- 1992.

"He's a great football coach who has worked his way up," Cowher said. "I think players have tremendous respect for him."

Funny, though, how they tend to take opposing positions on philosophical issues.

"We bang heads," Holmgren said.

Cowher's career path is rooted in defense. He played linebacker and special teams with the Browns and Eagles and established his coaching credentials as Marty Schottenheimer's defensive coordinator in Kansas City.

Holmgren, of course, was schooled in the San Francisco system where Bill Walsh's innovative offenses moved the game forward.

"When we get into those committee meetings, I'm always sticking up for the defensive side," Cowher said. "Mike always wants more pass interference calls. I always say those offensive guys push as much as the defensive guys do."

Holmgren gets the last laugh, though, because he holds a 3-1 edge over Cowher on the field. He went 2-1 against the Steelers as coach of the Green Bay Packers and led the Seahawks to a 29-10 win in 1999.

Wins and losses aside, these men have a mutual respect that goes deep.

"He is a passionate, intense guy," Holmgren said. "He was that way as a player. He's that way as a coach."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index