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The star-crossed relationship of the Browns and Bill Cowher does not end with him as coach

Jan 09, 2013 -- 11:19am

By Tony Grossi

The real Bill Cowher update: One word has launched more hysteria in the Browns’ coaching search.

At a function in New York promoting CBS’ upcoming coverage of the Super Bowl, Bill Cowher was asked if he planned to ever return to coaching.

“Yeah,” Cowher answered.

Browns fans longing for Cowher to rescue the team from habitual losing tuned out everything said after that rare concession from the former Browns assistant-turned-Pittsburgh Steelers-head coach.

He then was asked if he was tempted by any of the current NFL openings and whether he has heard from any of them.

“No, no, no, no,” Cowher responded. “Hey, we have the Super Bowl. All these coaches are trying to get there. I know I’m going to be there.”

I’ve known Cowher a long time and have always considered him the perfect Browns coach. Don’t get your hopes up. If he wanted to be the Browns coach, it would have happened by now.

He has turned down the Browns on at least two occasions and, before that, the Browns turned him down.

When Marty Schottenheimer parted ways with the Browns after the 1988 season – leaving his assistants looking for jobs – I attended the Senior Bowl “coaches convention” and met up Cowher after hours in Mobile, Ala. At the time, Cowher was 31 and had just made his mark as Schottenheimer’s special teams coach. He was passionate to the point of lunacy, often banging into players and coaches  while locked in to following a return or coverage of a kick along the sideline.

At the Senior Bowl, Cowher was down about his first experience with the business of the NFL. He looked me in the eye, jutted his jaw almost into my chest, and said, “I am going to be a head coach in this league.”

We know the rest of that story. Cowher became one of the best head coaches of his era with his hometown Steelers.

The relationship between the Browns and Cowher has been star-crossed.

Art Modell interviewed him for the Browns’ job in 1991 when Cowher was Schottenheimer’s defensive coordinator in Kansas City. Modell at the time felt Cowher, then 34, was not quite ready for the top job and was too closely associated with Schottenheimer to hire. Modell turned to Bill Belichick; a year later, Cowher turned to Dan Rooney, who snapped him up to succeed the great Chuck Noll.

Cowher proceeded to dominate the Browns like no other opposing coach before his time. In Belichick's one playoff season in 1994, Cowher's Steelers beat the Browns three times -- including in the arch-rivals' first-ever postseason meeting. In the new Browns' lone playoff season in 2002, Cowher's Steelers completed that three-game sweep again, the last one coming in an epic Browns' collapse in the playoff meeting.

Randy Lerner inquired a couple times to Cowher – once indirectly and then in a face-to-face plea in New York in January of 2009.  The second time, Cowher already was loving the semi-retirement life as a network studio analyst. Now he is six years into living the good life of a successful ex-coach in the media-heavy 21st Century.

In the old days, coaches plunged right back into other coaching jobs because they needed the money and that’s what they did best. Now, coaches who make their mark in coaching step right into a network TV studio. The ones who are superstars in that medium – Cowher, Jon Gruden, Jimmy Johnson – are more than happy to get paid millions of dollars to comment and analyze about the NFL. They are just as passionate doing that as they were coaching, and it shows. That’s why they’re so good at it.

I have no doubt that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam inquired to Cowher long before his coaching search got to this point, just as he did to Nick Saban. Their reasons for not coaching the Browns may be different.

As Saban convincingly voiced on Tuesday, he learned through his ill-fated experience with Miami Dolphins that the college game was the place for him to be.

Cowher, I believe, was spoiled in 14 seasons with the Steelers. He is not going to resume his career with just any organization. He wants the same stability and the same support he enjoyed in Pittsburgh. And I think he will wait for the one job that gives him that and it isn’t in Cleveland.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi


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