Former Steelers head coach, and Crafton native, Bill Cowher was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of the NFL’s special Centennial Class of 2020.
With 149 regular season wins, two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl title in a head coaching career that spanned 15 seasons, one might say Cowher’s enshrinement in Canton was long-overdue. Others may say that, if not for the NFL’s special—and one-time only—centennial celebration selection process, Cowher may have never gotten in the traditional way. I say, with a resume that’s similar or better than some head coaches who did get in the traditional way—Marv Levy, Bud Grant, John Madden and Tony Dungy come to mind—regardless of how he got in, The Chin was more than deserving of the honor.
I know one thing, it validates what I thought of Cowher when he was performing his future Hall of Fame duties in real time: he was a damn good head coach—and those aren’t so easy to find.
People may not remember or even really care—and I’ve said this a million times—but the criticisms that current head coach Mike Tomlin faces on a regular basis are the same that Cowher had to deal with for the vast-majority of his time roaming the Steelers sideline.
It’s the nature of the job for just about every head coach. It’s the one profession where even the best don’t truly get appreciated until after their careers are over.
In that respect, players have it much better than their immediate bosses. Take Troy Polamalu, for example. The fact that he contributed heavily to two world championships during his 12 years with the Steelers obviously strengthened his legacy and the love many Steelers fans will always have for him. But the reality is, special talents like No. 43 could spend their entire careers with last-place teams, and they’d still be loved and appreciated. They’d likely still get voted into the Hall of Fame, which Polamalu almost surely will as part of the same 2020 class as Cowher.
You were able to appreciate Polamalu’s greatness because it was so obvious to the naked eye. You could go back and watch highlights of some awesome play or game hours—and years—after it happened. But there are no personal highlights for a head coach. Either he won or he lost. Either his team went all the way or it didn’t. And even if a coach wins a lot, it’s usually not enough for the fans. For every title that’s won, there are often two or three that, at least according to the fans, should have been won.
Fans don’t usually spend their time praising a head coach. Instead, they complain about his game-plan, about his team’s preparation (or lack thereof). Again, a coach normally doesn’t have personal highlights—at least of the tangible variety. Low-lights, however? The fans can point to them after each and every game. “Why didn’t he call a timeout there?” “Why did he challenge that play?” “Why did he call a fake punt in that situation?”
An NFL head coach is a profession where you’re almost always on the hot seat. And even if you’re not officially on the hot seat, people often ask if you should be. “Is his job still safe?” “Should it still be safe?”
Cowher faced every criticism imaginable during his 15 years with the Steelers. Perhaps he should have won another title or two, but the fact that he stuck around long enough to win the one that he did spoke volumes.
The truly great head coaches don’t get to stick around for very long if their low-lights are actual low-lights and not the ones often perceived by the fans.
Bill Cowher wasn’t a perfect head coach, but he was really good at his job, and he did it much better and much longer than most ever do.
That’s not exactly a sexy description, but it sure does sound like I’m describing a former NFL head coach who just got elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.