Steelers say Cowher talks will wait until after season

Updated: August 15, 2006, 7:19 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers made official what has seemed evident for weeks: coach Bill Cowher is no longer negotiating an extension to a contract that runs through 2007.

Wojciechowski's take
When he finally does step away, the Steelers should do something to recognize the coach with the league's longest tenure -- which is going on an amazing 15 years in a cutthroat business.

• For more of Wojciechowski's analysis, Click here.

The team announced Tuesday that it has ceased talks with Cowher on signing an extension so he can focus on coaching the returning Super Bowl champions. The team, which has had just two coaches in 38 seasons, has long had a policy of not negotiating contracts during a season, but wants to renew talks with Cowher once the season ends.

This is the first time since Cowher was hired by his hometown team in 1992 that he will go into a season with as few as two seasons remaining on his contract. Cowher and the team had been discussing an extension since shortly after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in February.

Cowher said several times during the offseason that he prefers now to work on a year-to-year basis, a stance he adopted after the Steelers went 6-10 in 2003 after winning 23 games the previous two seasons. Cowher, although he is just 49, is beginning his 15th season in Pittsburgh and is the NFL's most tenured coach with a single team.

"Over the past several months we have had a continuing and positive dialogue with coach Cowher's representative, Octagon President Phil de Picciotto, concerning Bill's contract and the future," team president Art Rooney II said in a statement issued by the team.

"I remain optimistic and hopeful that we will be able to conclude a contract extension which will keep Bill coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers for many more years. However, we have all agreed that at this time we will continue those conversations after this season so that Bill's focus, and the focus of the entire organization can be on the excitement and challenge of defending the Super Bowl championship."

Cowher's decision to not sign an extension has created speculation he may retire at the end of the season, with the possibility of him returning elsewhere as an NFL coach in a few years. He and his family have purchased a $2.5 million luxury home in Raleigh, N.C., where he attended North Carolina State, and Cowher's wife and youngest daughter are expected to live there this season.

His other two daughters will attend Princeton.

Cowher said as recently as last month that he hasn't decided if he will coach again next season. However, Cowher was unhappy when former Steelers star Jerome Bettis predicted on NBC-TV on Sunday that Cowher might be in his final season in Pittsburgh.

Cowher wouldn't comment Tuesday on the Steelers' statement, standing by remarks he made Monday that he won't talk again this season about his future plans.

"There's been a lot of speculation about my future, I'm here to say once again that it's purely that, speculation," Cowher said. "I don't like talking about the contract because we're in camp. I love coaching football, I love coaching here and there's been a lot of speculation and I'm going to leave it at that.

"I can't control the future -- again, that takes two sides -- but I do have two years left on my contract, contrary to what some people think. And that's all I want to talk about it," he said.

Cowher now has a chance to do what his predecessor, Chuck Noll, did by winning Super Bowls in consecutive seasons. Noll did so twice, in the 1974-75 and 1978-79 seasons. Noll (193-148-1) and Cowher (141-82-1) both rank among the top 10 in career coaching victories with one team, with Noll fifth and Cowher ninth.

The Steelers have the NFL's best regular season record since Cowher was hired in 1992, 141-82-1. The Packers are second with a 141-83 record.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press