<
>

Steelers say Cowher talks will wait until after season

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.

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.