'We just kept pounding our head'

Updated: February 4, 2004, 3:43 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Coach Bill Cowher finally talked about a subject he wouldn't discuss at length five weeks ago -- what went wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers' season.

A day after the Steelers ended the most disappointing of their 12 seasons under Cowher with a 6-10 record, the coach said he needed further time to evaluate the season gone wrong.

Now that he's had time to reflect, and to reshape his coaching staff, Cowher suggested Tuesday the Steelers may have stayed too long with a system that wasn't working.

He wouldn't blame their nearly season-long inability to run the ball for causing their second-worst record in 34 years. The Steelers' 1,488 yards rushing were their fewest since 1967, when the NFL played only a 14-game schedule.

But with the passing game also slumping compared to a year ago, despite quarterback Tommy Maddox's respectable statistics, the running game's huge falloff clearly had a devastating impact.

"Maybe there were some things we did schematically that we got away from, that we should have done more of, or that we did too much of -- we just kept pounding our head, and it was not working," Cowher said.

"We probably did not do a good-enough job of making the adjustments that we should have made."

Running back Jerome Bettis was benched during training camp and didn't regain his starting job until midseason, when a 2-6 record had already effectively doomed the Steelers' season.

Bettis finished with 811 yards, but possibly could have had a ninth 1,000-yard season in 11 years if he hadn't backed up Amos Zereoue for nearly half the season.

The Steelers reshaped their offense during the offseason to further emphasize Maddox's throwing, but Cowher still insists that doesn't mean they de-emphasized the run.

"No one questioned the New England Patriots when they were just throwing it and throwing it and they were winning and winning," Cowher said. "When you're winning, you don't have to answer those questions."

Despite the Steelers' poor season, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was hired as the Bills' coach and was replaced in Pittsburgh by tight ends coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Newly named assistant head coach Russ Grimm will also be involved in game planning next season, as he was under Mularkey, but Whisenhunt will have the final call in play selection.

"Ken was a guy Bill [Parcells] was grooming to become a coordinator [when Parcells coached the Jets]," Cowher said.

The Steelers will scout any workouts by former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, who signed a $17 million, six-year contract with the New York Yankees three years ago. Henson has since ended his baseball career.

The Texans drafted Henson in the sixth round last year, but have yet to sign him. If he doesn't sign by April 24, he would go back into the draft.

"We're going to look at all of our options," Cowher said. "I think you are foolish not to."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press