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Harris: Therrien didn't get chance to emulate Cowher

| Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

If Dan Rooney were a typical team owner, Bill Cowher wouldn't have won Super Bowl XL, much less coached in it.

Good thing Cowher coached the Steelers and not the Penguins.

Ask Cowher what a difference winning a Super Bowl makes. Cowher survived a three-year playoff drought (1998-2000) that included back-to-back losing seasons.

Winning Super Bowl XL transformed Cowher from a successful coach who couldn't win the big game into a legendary coach who left the best organization in football on his terms, instead of the other way around.

Cowher commands top dollar as a television analyst and motivational speaker who can afford to pick and choose his next coaching destination. He has the luxury of not having to return to coaching unless it's the right fit.

Less than a year after leading his team to the Stanley Cup final, Michel Therrien was told by Penguins management that he no longer was the right fit.

Who's to say Therrien couldn't have taken the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup final and won it• With the talent on hand, maybe even win multiple Stanley Cups?

OK, so 2008-09 has been a disappointment for the Penguins, with injuries and chemistry issues contributing to their decline.

You could argue that the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup final ahead of schedule because most of their core players are relatively young and still learning how to dominate on a regular basis.

It's one thing to sneak up and surprise the rest of the NHL. It's different when the element of surprise is gone.

A year after advancing to the AFC Championship Game -- and two years after losing to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX -- Cowher's Steelers went 7-9, followed by a 6-10 record.

Firing Cowher at that point would have been so easy -- and predictable. But firing Cowher would have resulted in a new coaching staff, new coordinators, new ideas, new players.

It might have taken the Steelers five years for a new coach to implement his system, and there were no guarantees the new coach would even reach Cowher's level.

Rooney knew what he had in Cowher, who had taken the Steelers to a Super Bowl and a pair of conference championship games. It wasn't like Cowher had forgotten how to coach.

Instead of taking the easy way out and cutting Cowher loose, Rooney cut him some slack.

Over the next six years under Cowher, the Steelers endured one more losing season (6-10 in 2003) and one year of not making the playoffs (9-7 in 2000). However the other four years were golden: four postseason appearances, three trips to the AFC Championship Game and a 21-10 victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

Therrien had what it took to lead the Penguins to within two wins of the Stanley Cup last season. There was nothing wrong with his coaching strategy then.

Let's be frank: Therrien didn't become stupid overnight.

Who's to say Therrien wouldn't have taken the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup final if given the opportunity to try a less rigid approach with his star players?

Who's to say the Penguins will listen to interim coach Dan Bylsma• And if they do listen, for how long?

Will the Penguins be forced to start over again and hire another coach next season when they could have continued to learn and adjust under Therrien's proven system?

Given a second chance, Cowher became a better coach and finally won the Super Bowl that had eluded him for so long. Too bad Therrien won't be able to finish what he started.

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