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A Letter From The Editor: How Bill Cowher completely changed the way I view a coach

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Growing up with the 1990s ‘Blitzburgh’ Steelers, I found Bill Cowher refreshing, but also slightly disturbing.

Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

I was born in February of 1983, so the first Pittsburgh Steelers teams I really remember were coached by Bill Cowher. I saw, and heard, plenty about the stoic Chuck Noll, but what I saw on the sideline during the “Cowher Power” era was something unlike I’d ever seen in my life.

Keep in mind this is through the eyes of a young boy whose only experience was with youth athletics. You know, the coaches, who are usually dads, aren’t all that concerned with the outcome, but that every player gets a chance to succeed.

As it should be in youth sports, but when I watched Cowher roam the sidelines, hunting down players with his chin protruding, spit dripping down onto his coaching shirt, headsets flying and fingers being jabbed into players’ chest plates, I was astounded.

In case you forgot:

or this...

As any Steelers fan who was alive for the Cowher era knows, there were plenty other moments like these when Cowher was at the helm.

While I was stunned by Cowher’s actions, I absolutely adored his authenticity. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, especially in his early years, and it was an absolute blast to watch. He reacted just like fans would have reacted. He hugged players, sometimes kissed them, when they made a great play, and berated them when they made a huge mistake. There was no stoicism in Bill Cowher, just pure, unfiltered emotion — and I loved him for that.

What I was learning as a young kid was how I appreciated Cowher’s candor while on the sideline, and this carried over into my own coaching career. My players never had to guess what was on coach’s mind — they knew. If they messed up, they heard about it. If they made a great play, they might have thought I was the one who made the play.

Quick sidebar. For those who don’t know, I never coached football, but was a head boys varsity lacrosse coach in the state of Maryland for 13 years. I hung up the whistle two years ago, but there is one game I’ll never forget. My team was trailing by 5 goals with 4:30 left in the contest. For those who don’t know lacrosse, it is one of the few sports where after a goal the opposition isn’t guaranteed the ball back. Nonetheless, my team scored 5 goals in that time span to send the game to overtime. In overtime we had a would-be game-winning goal called off for a crease violation. My reaction was similar’s to Cowher’s in the first video above. Still, the resiliency of my team was evident as we were still able to take the victory. When the ball hit the back of the net, you would have thought I scored the goal. I jumped, I yelled, I chest bumped...I was ecstatic.

Come to think of it, as a coach I was a lot like Bill Cowher. I was, and still am, an emotional being. And I’m not ashamed of that. I don’t shy away from tears, nor do I shy away from happiness and joy.

Bill Cowher changed the way I viewed a coach, and unbeknownst to me, molded me into the coach I became later in life. I guess you could say I had “Cowher Power” running through my veins as I patrolled the sidelines...as if I was searching for the ever elusive “one for the thumb”.