Sports Outside the Beltway

Whisenhunt Next Steelers Headcoach?

Most fans of a Super Bowl winning team aren’t speculating on the next head coach. But then, most Super Bowl winning head coaches don’t refuse the standard two year contract extension offered by management that they have always accepted up until now. Also, most Super Bowl coaches haven’t been in the NFL as long as Bill Cowher, and don’t feel like they are done yet, where it seems that the Super Bowl is a cap on a long and fruitful career for Cowher.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Ken Whisenhunt is the heir apparant in the Steel City.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers’ Whisenhunt heir apparent to Cowher?

Thursday, August 03, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Maybe it was because a demonic highlands sun had turned the floor of Saint Vincent’s natural amphitheatre into a microwave, and maybe it was that 80-some Steelers each seemed at that moment a viable candidate for spontaneous human combustion, but as offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt left the practice field in the merciless daylight yesterday, the prospect of being somewhere else seemed like an appropriate question.

“You know,” someone mentioned, “you could be spending this week at the Napa Valley Marriott Resort and Spa, summer home of the Oakland Raiders.”

“Instead of beautiful Latrobe?” quipped the o.c.

The Steelers’ gifted play-caller came within an oft-chronicled Al Davis compulsion of being the head coach in Oakland the week after Super Bowl XL, with only the eccentric owner’s chronic inability to dismiss himself totally from the football operation likely sending Whisenhunt back into the arsenal of one William Laird Cowher.

Ken Whisenhunt — Is he the heir apparent to Bill Cowher?
Click photo for larger image.

“I don’t think about it now,” Whisenhunt said.

Fair enough, but if he did think about his own career path, rather than merely the innovative ways in which he’ll probably coax another 5,000 yards from this Steelers offense in 2006, those thoughts would be ricocheting through a very different context than the one he inhabited in February. At that time, no one knew the correct interpretation of Cowher’s comments on the morning after Steelers 21, Seahawks 10, to wit: “The rest of this week I’m going to sit back and reflect for the first time on this football team, on this season, and on what we were able to accomplish. You’re taught with other players never to reflect when you’re in the middle of something, and I really like to practice what I preach. But I can tell you, this I’m going to do a lot of reflecting and enjoying every minute of it.”

In hindsound, the auditory equivalent of hindsight that I just made up, it seemed that Cowher took a little too long getting from one end of the word “lot” to the other: “I’m going to do a lohhhht of reflecting.” But, of course, like hindsight, hindsound is 20-20. Or something.

Obviously, we all know about the big house the Cowhers have purchased near Mt. Pilot, [North Carolina], the maturing of the three basketballing daughters and the notion that the head coach might have reflected all the way to where, if he can’t see the end of his career, he can certainly see the end of the black-and-gold part. With negotiations essentially stalled on a contract extension for the Jaw, Whisenhunt goes from somebody’s-head-coach-before-too-long to the heir apparent in the Noll-Cowher lineage that’s made winning football and Pittsburgh virtual cultural synonyms.

Of course, this speculation intensified in Pittsburgh after Whisenhunt turned down an opprotunity to coach in Oakland. While that probably has a lot to do with Al Davis, one wonders if another reason he’s staying is because he suspects he is Cowher’s heir apparent. It would be a new focus for a Steeler coach – I don’t think they’ve hired an offensive coordinator for the top job in years. Of course, they’ve only hired two coaches period in about 30 years, so that’s not much of a sample size. He is the best liked offensive coordinator we’ve had in years, so chances are the fans would welcome him at first, and stick with him if the Steelers kept up their winning ways.

As for Cowher, chances are he will get involved in his alma mater, NC State. Head football coach Herb Sendek has to be a bit nervous, and the atheletic director, from what I’ve heard from NC State fans at work, has even MORE to be nervous about. With Cowher down the road and “out of work”, its going to put a crunch on those positions – perform or else we bring in Cowher. I think it likely that they’ll hire him in some capacity the moment he leaves the Steelers.

Despite all this speculation, Cowher is here through this season, and probably the next, so Cowher haters (all five of you who remain) will have to put up with him for that much longer.

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