Steelers say they're not dwelling on Cowher's future

Updated: December 28, 2006, 2:41 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers say they aren't thinking about whether Sunday's season-ending game against the Cincinnati Bengals will be Bill Cowher's coaching finale with the team.

But if it is, Hines Ward, for one, would like to see the Steelers stay inside the family when it comes time to pick a new coach. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm have interviewed previously for head coaching jobs, and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple interviewed for the head job at Boston College earlier this month.

"Of course you would love to stay in-house," Ward said Wednesday. "The coaching staff knows you, but that's not my job. I just play."

Ward, whose career began in 1998, said it would be a big change if Cowher leaves -- but acknowledged change is the league's one constant.

"In this business, players and coaches come and go, if Cowher stays, everybody in the city will love it," Ward said. "If he goes, every man has his right to leave and go on to do other things. We as players appreciate the time we've had with him, and we're not really looking or worried about the future."

As for Sunday's game against the Bengals, if the Steelers are determined to win one for Cowher, their coach since 1992, they're not acting like it.

"No, that's not the motivation," linebacker Joey Porter said. "I don't think nobody is using that because he's never said anything like that to us. That's not a motivational speech you can use until somebody says it."

Cowher plans to announce his future plans next week -- a sign that the NFL coach with the longest current tenure with a single team may be ready to retire or temporarily step out of the NFL after 15 seasons in Pittsburgh. He has one season left on a contract he signed in 2004, but has made no move to sign an extension.

In many NFL cities, changes in the front office and the coaching staff occur on a fairly regular basis. But not in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have had the same primary ownership for all but a few months since 1933 and only two coaches since 1969.

While the 49-year-old Cowher's status is the topic du jour in the city where he coaches, his players don't seem to be caught up in the is-he-staying or is-he-going discussions.

"I'm not lying, we don't talk about it until you guys come asking about it," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters. "It's not a thought on our minds."

Porter has played for Cowher, and only Cowher, since 1999 and the two have more than a usual player-coach relationship. When Cowher's two oldest daughters came to town Friday to play in Princeton's basketball game against Duquesne, Porter and linebacker Larry Foote were among those sitting with Cowher and his wife.

If Cowher steps down, it may be to spend more time watching his three daughters play basketball -- his youngest is a high school sophomore in North Carolina -- before he decides whether he wants to coach again. He also might want to move into a broadcast booth as an analyst.

Porter said he isn't certain what Cowher plans to do, although he said a couple of weeks ago that he expected Cowher to return.

"You stay out of that situation -- that's the man's business," Porter said. "Hopefully he is here, that's all I'm hoping for. Until he tells me different, that's what I'm planning on."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.