Report: Steelers' candidates might stay as assistants

Updated: January 10, 2007, 12:50 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Despite Bill Cowher's resignation, the Steelers' coaching staff might have the same look in 2007 as it did in 2006.

Ken Whisenhunt
Whisenhunt
Russ Grimm
Grimm

According to a report in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, if the Steelers hire in-house candidates Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt to replace Cowher as head coach, the person who doesn't get the job might still stay on the Steelers' staff.

The newspaper reported that both Grimm and Whisenhunt have told people privately that if either of them are named the Steelers' new head coach, the one who doesn't get the job would like to stay on the Steelers' staff as an assistant if they don't get a head coach job elsewhere.

The entire Steelers coaching staff is under contract for 2007.

Whisenhunt, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, was interviewed by team officials for three hours Tuesday, and it was evident he doesn't want to leave Pittsburgh to be an NFL head coach unless there's no other option.

"This is the place I want to be," Whisenhunt said. "I've been very grateful to be a part of this organization for six years and I'm just excited to get this opportunity."

Whisenhunt, who has run the Steelers' offense since quarterback Ben Roethlisberger arrived in 2004, and assistant head coach Grimm appear to be the clear front-runners to succeed Cowher.

Whisenhunt, who turns 45 next month, met with owner Dan Rooney, team president Art Rooney II and director of football operations Kevin Colbert about what the coach said were "a lot of things."

"I'm just honored to be included in this search," Whisenhunt said. "A lot of the coaches and players have helped me get to this spot, and I'm very grateful for that."

Grimm interviewed Monday with the Steelers before meeting Tuesday with the Arizona Cardinals. Whisenhunt talked with the Cardinals last Friday and met with the Falcons and Dolphins. Atlanta has since hired Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.

What Whisenhunt can offer the Steelers is a relatively easy transition, with little change needed on either side of the ball -- if Whisenhunt or Grimm is hired, 69-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau may return, too.

With Roethlisberger coming off the poorest of his three seasons, plus a disruptive offseason in which he made two hospital stays, the Steelers don't want to make numerous changes in strategy, personnel or terminology.

Retaining Whisenhunt would mean a seamless transition from one staff to another, whereas bringing in a coach from the outside would likely mean hiring a new coordinator and installing a new system.

Whisenhunt, a former Georgia Tech and Atlanta Falcons tight end, was the Steelers' tight ends coach for three seasons before succeeding Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator in 2004. He is considered one of the NFL's best play-callers, helping Roethlisberger make a quick and successful transition while still retaining a successful running game.

The Steelers also met Sunday with Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and will interview Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin on Wednesday. They haven't said if they will interview any other candidates -- an apparent change from 1992, when Dan Rooney talked with about a dozen candidates before hiring Cowher following a 3½-week search.

The Steelers haven't promoted one of their own assistants to head coach since Mike Nixon in 1965, his only year on the job. He was let go following a 2-12 season.

And before the Steelers can hire a new coach, their former coach had to make room for him.

Cowher did that Tuesday, cleaning out his office during a brief return to town. After resigning Friday, he spent last weekend watching his three daughters play basketball.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.