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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2005

Cowher is due credit for team's turnaround

PITTSBURGH - The makeover of Bill Cowher as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers signals that it's time to give credit where it's due.

It's not time to gas up the Super Bowl bandwagon. There's a little matter of the Steelers playing host to the New England Patriots today in the AFC championship game at Heinz Field.

But the time is ripe to re-embrace Cowher, who came down off his high horse and pointed the Steelers in a new, exciting direction.

A 6-10 record last season and not making the playoffs four times in six years can change a man.

Much of Pittsburgh's success this season can be attributed to the fact that Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and Cowher are on the same page.

Rooney saw something in Cowher that the rest of us didn't.

Most important to Rooney is that he trusts Cowher completely. Rooney believes in Cowher, so before the start of the season he extended Cowher's contract through 2007.

Cowher took a good look in the mirror and returned to his roots, re-emphasizing a power ground attack and a physical defense.

He spent the entire offseason determined to re-make the Steelers in his image.

Cowher is a meat-and-potatoes coach - hold the asparagus. It's what he knows best.

He is also in charge of winning football games. Period. He's not interested in being known as the league's smartest coach. He's not interested in being regarded as the best NFL coach with the most unique scheme.

The Steelers are a running team. Cowher got into trouble and the Steelers lost games and lost hope when they lost sight of what was so obvious.

The Steelers have returned to lining up with their big, strong offensive line and running Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley right at their opponents.

Cowher, however, faces the ultimate coaching challenge today. I'm dying to see what kind of game plan Cowher and his coaching staff put together. And I'm dying to see how New England's Bill Belichick counters Cowher's strategy.

Will Cowher go with what worked in a 34-20 Steelers win over New England on Halloween and take the wraps off rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? Or will he allow his ground game and defense to determine the outcome?

Will Cowher pull out all the stops against Belichick? Will he get caught up in hype of coaching against the NFL's resident genius?

Cowher knows how to inspire players, he knows how to make men believe that football is more important than life itself.

Cowher is a salesman. He can get the Steelers to buy into what he's selling.

Belichick is different. He's the smug high school geometry teacher you hated until you finally tried things his way.

Whatever Belichick says, the Patriots believe, even if he doesn't.

Belichick knows how to create a winning environment. He knows how to instill confidence. He knows how to win big games.

Cowher has struggled to win big games. Belichick beat him in the 2001 AFC title game, denying the Steelers a Super Bowl berth and raising doubts about Cowher's ability to win the battle of X's and O's in the postseason.

Cowher is overdue to win a big game.

Winning today's big game can help transform Cowher's image from big-game underachiever to big-game mastermind. This is the big game that can nationally reform Cowher's image and complete the Steelers' remarkable transformation.



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