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Steelers

Steelers may face more changes

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004

After firing defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and wide receivers coach Kenny Jackson, Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Wednesday he plans no further disruptions of his coaching staff, but he might have no control over what happens to offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and offensive line coach Russ Grimm.

Mularkey spent yesterday meeting with Buffalo Bills president and general manager Tom Donahoe, who is seeking a replacement for fired head coach Gregg Williams. Mularkey, who was the Steelers' tight ends coach when Donahoe was director of football operations in Pittsburgh, is one of seven candidates for the Buffalo job. He also was the last candidate interviewed in what Donahoe called "the first go-round."

Donahoe said he and other Bills officials will evaluate all of the candidates today and Friday and determine their next step.

"We will keep our options open," he said.

Donahoe said Mularkey did well in the interview.

"He has a good plan to be a head coach. We were impressed."

"Tom and I go back to my playing days in Pittsburgh," Mularkey said. "So, it's been a while since he and I worked together. The nucleus is there for a winner (in Buffalo). The organization is very good. I think it's just an ideal situation."

Meanwhile, the hiring of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs as Washington Redskins coach has ignited talk in that area of Grimm reuniting with Gibbs. The Redskins are expected to ask the Steelers for permission to interview Grimm for the job of offensive coordinator.

Grimm played for Gibbs through 11 seasons and three Super Bowls and was his tight ends coach in 1992. Overall, Grimm spent 19 seasons with the Redskins as a player or coach.

Back in Pittsburgh, Steelers defensive backs coach Willy Robinson could become a candidate to replace Lewis, but the San Francisco 49ers also might be interested in Robinson, if Jim Mora Jr. leaves to become a head coach. Mora is a candidate in Atlanta, Chicago and Oakland.

The Steelers also might be interested in former New York Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, but Cottrell visited yesterday with Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice and could get an offer to become their next defensive coordinator. They also are considering their former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is now a coach/consultant with the Buffalo Bills.

Cowher didn't reveal any candidates for the job, but he did explain yesterday how he decided to sever ties with Lewis and Jackson after entering the offseason last week with no plans to make any staff changes.

"I don't know if I changed my mind as much as, after having sat down with both guys, which were uniquely different situations, we had very candid conversations," Cowher said. "Through the course of those conversations, I think, philosophically speaking, it was the right thing to do on both situations."

Cowher said Jackson, who had been with the Steelers since 2001, indicated that he wasn't sure he wanted to return for a fourth season.

"With Kenny there seemed to be an almost mutual agreement," Cowher said. "He had to give a lot of thought about whether he wants to come back. Initially, there was some hesitation that I didn't think it would be healthy to continue.

"With Tim, it was more of philosophical thing where we talked and had a lot longer talks, more than one. I had to really think through it to make sure it was something that was the right thing to do because it was a tough thing to do.

"It was the best way of handling it. It's unfortunate, but sometimes that's the nature of this business, and we will move on."

Cowher said he has set no timetable for hiring replacements.

"I really have just now started the process. I have not explored everything," he said. "There are certainly a lot of different directions we can go. It will be given a lot of thought."

The position of Steelers defensive coordinator has been a launching pad for three men who eventually became NFL head coaches, Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau and Jim Haslett.

"If you look at the people who have had this job," Cowher said, "I would say, yeah (it is attractive)."

The rest of the league will watch closely as the Steelers make their choices because they fired two minority coaches. Steelers team chairman Dan Rooney heads the NFL's diversity committee that fined Detroit Lions president Matt Millen $200,000 for failing to interview a minority before hiring coach Steve Mariucci last year.

"It is an issue in today's sporting world and today's society that I understand," Cowher said. "But at the same time, I will say (through) my history and anyone who looks at my background and the people we have hired here, I do not look at color as a criteria.

"We will get qualified people that fit this staff and that is the most important thing."

The diversity committee's mandate for interviewing minorities applies only to head coaches, but Cowher said, "We will do the right thing."

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