For now, Cowher's jaw stays closed

Steelers coach won't discuss retirement until after season

December 23, 2006|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

The Chin was in no mood to gab.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher, whose square chin has practically achieved celebrity status in Pittsburgh, has been dogged by questions about whether he will continue to coach the Steelers or retire at season's end.

In a conference call Wednesday with the media that cover the Ravens, Cowher avoided those questions with the same elusiveness that his Pro Bowl running back, Willie Parker, has used to spin away from tacklers.

"I've answered them, and they're all documented," Cowher said politely but firmly. "They're pretty consistent, and it's not a distraction. We're just getting ready to play the next game."

The topic came up a minute later, and Cowher, 49, didn't budge.

"That'll be done after the season. We'll just leave it at that," Cowher said, signaling an end to the line of questioning. "I'm not ready to get into that too much. I've talked already enough about that stuff."

Speculation has hounded Cowher - the longest-tenured coach in the NFL and who has one year remaining on his contract - since it became public in March that he and his wife had bought a $2.5 million house in Raleigh, N.C.

Cowher's wife and youngest daughter live in Raleigh, and Cowher, a Pittsburgh native who played football at North Carolina State, has already visited his family three times during the season.

While Cowher wasn't talkative with the Baltimore media, he opened up slightly with the Pittsburgh outlets Wednesday.

"There's been no decision made," Cowher said according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It will be something I will need to get away from and give some serious thought to, and I will do that - at the right time. Now is not the right time."

Cowher's future has cast a slight pall over the Steelers, the reigning Super Bowl champions who must defeat the Ravens tomorrow at Heinz Field to prevent being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

Pittsburgh (7-7) has won five of its past six games, but the lone loss was a 27-0 rout imposed by the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 26.

"They did take a big bite out of [us] down there, and we still have a bad taste in our mouths from that game," defensive end Brett Keisel told the Beaver County (Pa.) Times earlier this week. "So yeah, Sunday will be a big game."

According to Parker, however, the team's focus won't be overshadowed by the question surrounding Cowher.

"We don't even hear it," said Parker, the league's fifth-leading rusher with 1,331 yards and 11 touchdowns. "The only time we hear it is when you guys talk about it being a distraction. We just go out and play the game and practice every day like we've always done. That's going to take care of itself. We don't worry about that. That's just part of the business."

Guard Keydrick Vincent, who spent four seasons with the Steelers before joining the Ravens for the 2005 season, said he didn't put much stock in the rumors.

"A lot of people are saying that he's going to hang it up, but I really don't think so," Vincent said. "I think he's very loyal to that organization, and I think it would've been one of those things where if he was going to do it, he would've said it before the year. I don't think he would just go out like that because of his pride and everything they've done for him."

Cowher has been the most recognizable face of the Pittsburgh organization. He owns a .620 career winning percentage including playoffs (160-98-1) that is the highest in franchise history, and the Steelers have the best overall record in the NFL since 1992, when Cowher became the head coach.

That's part of the reason Ravens coach Brian Billick didn't seem too concerned about his counterpart.

"Bill's been at it a long time, and this conjecture has happened before," Billick said. "So I'm sure it's not a distraction for them. In a lot of different ways, a lot of different teams go through it, and I don't see any effect because they're playing pretty good. It doesn't seem to be bothering them."

Notes -- Ravens left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden likely will not play against Pittsburgh tomorrow. Ogden, who has been kept out of practice due to what he described as "turf toe" on his left foot, was downgraded to doubtful from questionable yesterday. "That toe's not looking good," Billick said. Adam Terry would get the start in Ogden's place. ... Five Ravens players - wide receivers Derrick Mason (thigh) and Mark Clayton (chest), center Mike Flynn (thigh), cornerback Samari Rolle (neck) and safety Gerome Sapp (thigh) - were upgraded to probable. Only tight ends Todd Heap (thigh) and Daniel Wilcox (knee/back) remained questionable. ... Team officials said all 644 tickets left for the Ravens' first playoff game were sold in five minutes yesterday morning. ... Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said he is looking forward to seeing the towel-waving Pittsburgh fans. "We're a nasty defense, and they're a nasty crowd," he said. "They're going to have their towels out, and we love that type of atmosphere. We love the challenge."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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