The Aftermath of the Cowher/Donahoe Power Struggle
Boy, I go out of town for three days on business, and all heck breaks loose!
The entire saga is one of the biggest goatscrews the NFL has seen in recent memory. Here's a list of exactly what went wrong, and what is wrong, with this fiasco.
First, from the top: Rooney did an unbelievably poor job of orchestrating this absurd debacle. First and foremost, since this rift between Donahoe & Cowhead had apparently existed for quite some time, Rooney should have brought both men in, cleared the air, and told 'em both to move out smartly and execute orders. That Rooney allowd this to fester for years without getting it smoothed out is utterly poor leadership. As we've now read the past 2 days, Donahoe was evidently making derogatory remarks about Cowhead to various confidants. This was obviously a no-go, but Rooney should have stepped in and squelched this long before it escalated into the biggest feud since the Hatfields and McCoys. Thirdly, it took Rooney far too much time to resolve this. The season ended on January 2nd. This should have been rectified a full week earlier than it did. The last, and probably the most egregious blunder -- Rooney unfairly allowed Cowher to point fingers and sob about Donahoe, without allowing Donahoe to be present to defend himself (he was scouting at the East-West game-site). You would expect an old-fashioned, common-sense kind of guy like Rooney to ensure that both men would be present to state their case, but for whatever reason, Rooney chose to allow Cowher to berate Donahoe till the sun came down, with no opportunity given to Donahoe to counter those allegations.
Let's not forget that few have been harder on Tom Dumbahoe than I these past 2 seasons. His work has been exceptionally average the past 2 seasons, with the most notable blunders being a complete refusal to acquire someone -- anyone -- to replace departing free agents Thigpen, Jackson, and Charles Johnson; and the Brett Conway fiasco in '98 that left the team bereft of a kicker in a key divisional game versus Tennessee. Added to that were the unbelievably fatty deals given to marginal players like Mark Breuner, Jason Gildong, and Jon Witman. There's no question that Donahoe sagged poorly the past 2 offseasons. This being said, however, Doanhoe was and is still a capable GM. Not only that, but of the two, Donahoe seems more malleable and able to adjust, than does Bill "The Mule" Cowhead. Remember: much of what Donahoe did was simply within the confines of Rooney's airtight checkbook.
This is not to say that Donahoe is irreplaceable. However, on this team, with this head coach, he was pretty close to being just that. First, it's perfectly obvious that Bill Cowher knows no more about evaluating personnel, than does the little old lady working the produce aisle at Giant Iggle. Cowher faces the prospect of losing 2 of his apparently most favorite players to free agency next month: Carlos Emmons and Courtney Hawkins. This is ironic, because both of these men serve as a microcosm of the mulestubborn infatuation Cowhead has with insisting on sticking with mediocre veterans instead of giving youngsters a chance. You'd have thought that Cowhead had seen enough blanketing of Hawkins in the '98 season to ensure Hawkins would never, ever start a game under his tenure. Nope. Hawkins started every game in '99 until injuring an ankle, and it's 99.9% certain that had Hawkins not gotten hurt, Troy Edwards would have never started a single game this past season. Ditto for Emmons, who has started every game the past 2 seasons at ROLB despite showing no more linebacking traits & skills that that of your average punter.
It's well known that Cowhead had more input on personnel decisions that any other non-GM coach in the NFL. Now that Donahoe is gone, Cowhead will have even more say so. It's entirely plausible that whomever Rooney hires as GM will be a puppet for Cowher and his ever-burgeoning ego.
This brings up another concern --- who in gawd's name would want this job? First, the GM would have to work under the miserly auspices of the penny-pinching Rooney. Then, he'd have to work with Bill Cowhead, a man who has literally shooed away quality assistants to jobs with other teams, in some cases jobs that were either a downgrade or at best only a job of equal stature. Plus, since Cowher has obviously bamboozled and snookered Rooney into thinking that Cowher is the irreplaceable boy wonder, the new GM will essentially have to bow to Cowher's every fancy, regardless of how inane it may be.
What's also laughable is this thoroughly absurd idea of having "Cowher help with the interview and selection process for the new GM." Didn't Rooney learn a single thing from the Ray Sherman fiasco, in which Korsmell Stewart was part of the selection process? Since when do subordinates have key influence on choosing their boss? It takes no dummy to figure out that Cowher will choose whatever polite simpleton will most likely wilt under the heat of a Cowher tirade. It's perfectly clear that Cowhead has no intention of working for a boss who can boss Cowhead or match him toe-to-toe in a power struggle.
Especially given the Witman-like speed Rooney prefers to move at, it'll take a good 10 days to get a new GM on board. The free agency period was bumped up this year, and it begins on Feb. 11th. That'll give the new GM, oh, about 12 days to prepare. In that time, he's got to -- supposedly -- scour the game film of a number of Steeler free agents, to determine who is worth keeping, and at what price. Ordinarily, he'd also scour the game film of youngsters, in order to see who may or may not be able to fill the voids in '00. This also would serve to determine who or who not to pursue from other teams' free agents. However, this is no ordinary case. Because of Cowhead's now-readily apparent mutiny, undermining, & backstabbing of Donahoe, there is little-- and in some case zero -- gamefilm to watch. Malcolm Johnson? About 4 plays worth. Amos Zeroue? Aside from the laugher at Cleveland, about 2 plays at tailback and a small handful of kickoff returns. Anthony Wright? Zero. Porter? Relatively small amount of film, compared to the PT other solid rookies around the league get.
As some reporters have pointed out, Bill Cowhead is not the Super Bowl hero like a Parcells, a Johnson, or a Noll. This man has never won the Super Bowl, and is coming off hideous 7-9 and 6-10 seasons. What's worse, is that in both of these seasons, his teams literally quit on him the final 6 weeks of the season, and digressed considerably down the stretch in each campaign. And this is the man Rooney wants to lead his team into a new era at the new stadium? Sounds rather farcical to me.
There are a couple positives to come out of this debacle. Cowhead has to grudgingly hire a few more assistants. We can only hope that a QB coach -- for the most important position on the field, bar none -- will FINALLY be hired. It's also readily apparent that another OL coach is needed, since Cowhead is too mulestubborn to fire the one he has (Stephenson). When a talented guy like Faneca show absolutely no progress in pass protection at all from his rookie season, and when Chris "The Turnstile" Conrad continually displays inept technique that would be appallingly unacceptable at the middle school level, there's a problem with the OL coaching. Also, another conditioning coach is desperately needed to get these slacking fatsos out of their lethargy and into high gear, in order to pick up the tempo on a team who's team speed is surely among the bottom 5 worst in the entire NFL.
But these are small positives, and are ALL ones that could have -- and should have --- been worked out without this kind of turmoil. Rooney would have been best served heeding the words of Spock from his Vulcan culture: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one." Unfortunately, the needs of the one -- Bill Cowhead and his blimp-sized ego -- outweighed the needs of a team and a franchise. We, the fans, will have to suffer for this grave blunder.
The Still Mill