Steelers’ players don’t see Cowher in Cleveland

Published 7:11 am Friday, December 26, 2008

Some of his former Steelers players would love watching Bill Cowher spray another team with spittle and swear words. What they don’t anticipate seeing is their former boss coaching the rival Cleveland Browns, at least not next season.

The Browns (4-11) may target Cowher to become their next coach shortly after they end their disappointing season Sunday in Pittsburgh. Coach Romeo Crennel is taking most of the blame for the collapse following last season’s promising 10-6 record, and there is nothing to suggest he will be brought back.

As much as the Browns are believed to want Cowher — they probably would have displayed him on the team Christmas card if he had asked — it’s difficult for some Steelers to envision him wearing orange and brown by next season.

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Cowher has told former colleagues in Pittsburgh that being out of coaching is better than he envisioned; he enjoys the less-stressful life of an NFL analyst for CBS; and likes not being stuck in an office for 12 hours-plus a day much of the year.

And if Cowher chooses to coach again, he might want a team better equipped to win in the near future — much like the Steelers he inherited from Chuck Noll in 1992 — than one that’s in a messy state such as the Browns.

‘‘That would shock me (if he coached the Browns),’’ defensive end Brett Keisel said Wednesday. ‘‘But it’s his decision. If he wants to do it, that would be great. I would get to see him a couple of more times a year, which I would like. It would be cool.’’

Some of Cowher’s former players believe that only competition can satisfy a person as driven as Cowher, so they will never say never to a Cowher return. They have watched too many coaches turn up too many places to say it will never happen.

‘‘If that situation arises (Cowher in Cleveland), we’ll have to deal with it,’’ left tackle Max Starks said. ‘‘This league has high turnover rates, so it doesn’t surprise me when I see coaches in different places than they were before. Coaches switch positions. Our former offensive coordinator (Ken Whisenhunt) went to Arizona as the head coach. You expect to see turnover and you expect to see guys everywhere.’’

But Cowher, a native Pittsburgher and the jut-jawed symbol of the Steelers for years, in Cleveland? For real?

‘‘I don’t even want to think about that,’’ wide receiver Hines Ward said.

Another question is what the Browns would have to dangle before Cowher to lure him out of a cushy job that allows him to spend most of his time in his adopted hometown of Raleigh, N.C.

Perhaps $8-10 million per year? Full control of all player personnel matters? Hiring some of his former Steelers colleagues?

Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert had a close relationship with Cowher and it is likely Cowher would want to bring Colbert with him to any job. But Colbert’s contract with Pittsburgh doesn’t expire until 2010 and it is uncertain if he would leave a job he likes so much even to be reunited with Cowher.

Cowher’s agents have not commented this season about the Cowher-to-Cleveland rumors. The Steelers have said there was no stipulation, or even a gentleman’s agreement, that Cowher would never coach the Browns or another AFC North team when he resigned after 15 seasons in early 2007.

If Cowher returns to coach against them at some point, some Steelers players plan to embrace the rivalry — and the man, too.

‘‘I love that guy,’’ Keisel said.