Houston Texans Fire Dave Culley, Another “Sour Apple’ on the Bill Cowher Coaching Tree? Not Quite

Scratch one more from the “Bill Cowher Coaching Tree.” After a 4-12 inaugural campaign the Houston Texans have fired head coach David Culley. Cully’s roots to Pennsylvania run deep but they are decidedly shallow on the Pittsburgh side.

Bill Cowher, Bill Cowher coaching tree

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. Photo Credit: Jamie Mullen, Getty Images, via BTSC

After Super Bowl XXX, Bill Cowher fired Ron Erhardt as his offensive coordinator, promoting wide receivers coach Chan Gailey to take his place. The Chin then hired David Culley to take Chan Gailey’s place as Steelers wide receivers coach.

David Culley served in that capacity from 1996 to 1998, and this was hardly the golden age of Steelers wide receivers. Yes, Yancey Thigpen flourished during the Steelers 1997 season, but his tenure is more notable for the failed development of Charles Johnson, Will Blackwell and to a lesser extent Jahine Arnold.

  • Takeaway Number 1:  These disappointments say more about the deterioration of Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe’s relationship than Culley’s coaching ability.

Charles Johnson was a first round pick, Will Blackwell a second and Arnold a 4th. Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe put together some good drafts early on, but as communication broke down between the two, the Steelers misfires on draft day became more severe — these three flameouts at wide receiver aren’t even the most egregious example.

After leaving Pittsburgh, Culley hopped on the Turnpike to Philadelphia, where he spent several years on the staff of Andy Reid, before following Reid to Kansas City, and then going on Buffalo and Baltimore. A year ago the Houston Texans hired him, and today he is without a job.

  • Takeaway Number 2: This highlights how “Coaching Trees” are overrated.

I don’t follow the Houston Texans so I can’t comment on Culley’s performance, but pulling the plug on a coach after one season seems a bit harsh. But fair or not, it makes Culley the latest former assistant of Bill Cowher to fail as a head coach.

Dom Capers was Cowher’s first assistant to get a head coaching job, and was followed by Chan Gailey, Jim Haslett, Dick LeBeau (indirectly), Mike Mularkey, Marv Lewis, and Ken Whisenhunt. All of them had their moments with Whisenhunt coaching against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, but none of them could sustain success.

And while critics might seek to use that as ammunition against Bill Cowher, they should not. While the “Bill Walsh” coaching tree is successful (although not as successful as it is made out to be), that does not make him a better coach. Indeed, Joe Gibbs won the same number of Super Bowls in the same era, with lesser talent.

No, the fact that this latest and perhaps last apple from the Bill Cowher coaching tree had a sour experience as a head coach says more about impatient, irrational owners and underlines how difficult it is to succeed in the NFL.

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Alan Faneca Probably Wasn’t an Exciting Pick for Steelers Fans. But….

With the 2016 NFL Draft just over a week away, the anticipation from Steelers fans is so palpable, it could probably be lanced at this point.

Who will the Steelers choose? Will they decide to go cornerback in Round 1 for the first time since 1997? Will Pittsburgh go with one of the plethora of stud defensive linemen that seem to be the fan-favorites of this year’s draft class? Will Karl Joseph, a safety out of West Virginia who would have been a high first round pick if not for suffering an ACL tear in 2015, be the Cinderella choice for the Steelers?

  • It’s hard to say for sure, but it certainly would be a shock if the ultimate choice doesn’t play one of those aforementioned positions.

Regardless of who the Steelers pick, however, like they always are with post-draft discussions, the reactions from experts and fans will be mixed and probably range from excited to distraught, depending on the position and the player.

With the NFL Draft now an institution and something almost as anticipated as the Super Bowl by many football fans, it’s easy to get caught up in the draft hype and put a lot of stock into who is selected. But given that your average NFL prospect comes with so many unknowns, and that the history of even top 10 choices is a mixed bag of success and failure, it seems like wasted energy to get so up and down about the whole process.

Unfortunately, so many fans will let their emotions rule the day when  the name of the Steelers first round pick is finally known on the evening of April 28. If the prospect is someone like Andrew Billings, an interior defensive lineman from Baylor, it will be a time to celebrate for many. If the first round pick is Eli Apple, a cornerback out of Ohio State, some reactionary fans will label him a bust before he even speaks to his first local sports journalist.

I don’t remember anything about April 18, 1998, when the first round of the NFL Draft was taking place. I can’t recall how I felt about the Steelers using their first round pick (26th, overall) to select Alan Faneca, a guard out of LSU, but I know I wasn’t overjoyed about it.

Like my brother always says, “drafting offensive linemen is so boring.” My brother is emblematic of a lot of football fans regarding the draft; he’d rather his draft day desires be met right away than sit back and wait to see how a player will actually develop and help the football team.

After all, isn’t that the whole idea?

Who cares about post-draft grades and “winners” and “losers”? Isn’t building a team to win on Sunday afternoons the ultimate goal? Actually, that was a rhetorical question, because that really is the ultimate goal.

And guess what? No matter how happy you would be if Billings, Joseph or any of the other Steeler fan man-crushes I’ve read about in recent weeks is the top choice, it still won’t automatically mean success.

I do remember where I was on April 24, 1994, when the Steelers used their first round pick (17th, overall) to select Charles Johnson, a receiver out of Colorado. Johnson was a favorite of my uncle and a player who wasn’t expected to last until the second-half of the first-round. When he slid to Pittsburgh and was selected, not only was my uncle happy, I was pretty excited, too.

But while Johnson had a decent enough five-year run with the Steelers, where he caught 247 passes for 3,400 yards and 15 touchdowns,  he certainly didn’t live up to his pre and post-draft excitement and hype.

As for Faneca, he went on to make nine-straight Pro Bowls, was a member of the Super Bowl XL team (that block he made to spring Willie Parker for a 75-yard run sure was exciting, wasn’t it?), and became the best guard in Steelers history and one of the greatest the NFL has ever seen.

The 2016 NFL Draft isn’t about being excited in April or May, it’s about being excited in January and February.

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