Let’s get to it:
RICHARD HARDING FROM BROCKWAY, PA: You've answered questions a couple of times now about the off-field issues that occurred during Coach Chuck Noll's tenure, which were enlightening and reminding us that all is not always rosy with our beloved Steelers. Were there any issues during Coach Bill Cowher's time at the helm? Other than the Kordell Stewart crying on the sideline during a 1998 game thing, I've either forgotten or completely missed anything like what's happening now.
ANSWER: There indeed were issues during Bill Cowher’s tenure as the Steelers coach, just as there have been issues during every tenure of every head coach in the NFL. But since you asked about Cowher:
In 1992, during Cowher’s inaugural season in the job, Eric Green was suspended for six games in November/December for violating the NFL’s drug policy. According to a report in The Washington Post at the time, “An NFL spokesman said Green's suspension was not for using steroids. The NFL's substance abuse policy has clearly defined suspensions for those caught abusing steroids, street drugs, or alcohol. The league wouldn't confirm it, but this is apparently the second time Green has broken the NFL's drug rules. A player receives treatment and counseling for a first offense, and no announcement is made. The penalty for a second violation is a six-game suspension.”
Then in 1994, Green was permitted to hold rehearsals for a Super Bowl rap video in the team meeting room, but those rehearsals came during the days leading up to the AFC Championship Game vs. San Diego at Three Rivers Stadium. A double-digit favorite in that game, the Steelers lost to the Chargers, and Green was said to have thrown a tantrum in the locker room at halftime because he believed he wasn’t getting the ball thrown to him enough. Green signed with the Miami Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent the following offseason.
Dick LeBeau was a position coach on Cowher’s inaugural staff in 1992, and then his first stint as the team’s defensive coordinator came in 1995-96. But after the 1996 season, LeBeau left the Steelers for the same coordinator job with the Cincinnati Bengals, whose record in the five seasons from 1992-96 was 26-54 (.325), whereas the Steelers had made the playoffs in each of those seasons, played in two conference championship games, and one Super Bowl. There was reported to be some friction between LeBeau and Cowher over who was in charge of the defense.
In March 1996, just a couple of months after he was the leading rusher in Super Bowl XXX, Bam Morris was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on one count of possession of between 5-and-50 pounds of marijuana, and one count of possession of between one-and-four grams of cocaine.
After the 1997 season, which was Kordell Stewart’s first as the full-time starting quarterback and one in which Stewart passed for 3,020 yards and 21 touchdowns while also rushing for another 476 yards and 11 touchdowns, Cowher had Stewart be a part of the process to select the next offensive coordinator after Chan Gailey left to become the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. The process resulted in Vikings assistant Ray Sherman getting the job. Sherman was so ill-suited for the responsibility that he once got confused and called a play from the Vikings playbook during a third-down situation in a regular season game in November. Sherman was fired after that one season.
Toward the end of a three-season run of missing the playoffs, rumors surfaced about Cowher’s personal life. While never confirmed, he felt it necessary at one point to address those rumors in a team meeting, and a story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the matter included a quote from his late wife, Kaye, denouncing them.
After tying Paul Brown as the only NFL coaches to make the playoffs in each of their first six seasons on the job, the Steelers finished a combined 13-19 over the next two seasons of 1998-99, and this was how the team was described by The Associated Press as the 2000 training camp was about to open: “The Steelers ran out of talent and resourcefulness. About the same time, many players simply ran out of tolerance for Cowher. They tuned out his screaming and sideline antics, almost as if they all hit the mute button at the same time. They didn’t listen, they didn’t respond, and as two successive losing seasons progressed, they didn’t win. The pattern was the same: The Steelers won early, threatened to again be a force in the AFC Central, only to smack into the artificial turf with a thud in the second half of the season. They lost their final five to finish 7-9 in 1998 and seven of their final eight to go 6-10 in 1999, the team’s worst season in 11 years. It wasn’t just how many they lost, but how they lost.”
In the 2000 offseason, during a minicamp practice, Richard Huntley, Jason Gildon, and Earl Holmes got involved in fight that began on the field and then carried over into the Three Rivers Stadium locker room. During the altercation, Huntley picked up a wooden stool and was brandishing it at some of his teammates, and Gildon picked up a wooden folding chair before having it ripped from his hands by another teammate.
Cornerback Deion Figures – the team’s No. 1 pick in 1993 – was wounded in an offseason shooting near his home in Compton, California; Joey Porter was wounded in a shooting outside a Denver nightclub following the Colorado-Colorado State football game right before the opening of a Steelers regular season; and Plaxico Burress was cited for an open-container violation in Cleveland and for public drunkenness in Virginia.
Porter also was ejected for fighting during warmups before a game against the Browns in Cleveland, and he once tried to fight Ray Lewis at the visiting team’s buses following a Ravens-Steelers game at Heinz Field.
There were two different times – toward the end of the three playoffless seasons from 1998-2000, and then after the Steelers lost the 2001 AFC Championship Game at home to New England and then finished 6-10 two seasons later – when Steelers fans screamed for Dan Rooney to fire his coach. But Rooney refused, saying only that “everybody needs to win every year,” and then after Rooney signed Cowher to a contract extension after the 2003 season, steered Cowher away from wanting to draft tackle Shawn Andrews in the first round in 2004 and toward picking a quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger instead, the Steelers finished 15-1 in 2004 and won Super Bowl XL to cap the following season.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: We hear about coaches who have or have not received permission from a team to be interviewed by another. What governs such interactions?
ANSWER: Coaches who are under contract with a team can be prohibited from interviewing for a job with another team. The exception is if the interview with another team is for a head coaching position.
BILLY BUCHANON FROM WALLACE WALLA, WA: Antonio Brown seems to be a victim of his own foolish behavior. Have you ever seen a player walk away from such an enormous contract? It seems silly to me?
ANSWER: Antonio Brown isn’t walking away from anything. If he is traded, the team that acquires him will be bound by the terms of his contract and therefore would be required to pay him any salaries and bonuses stipulated in that contract.
AIDAN MAGUIRE FROM DUNDALK, IRELAND: If a player demands/requests a trade, and they have a very substantial dead money cap hit, can the player be requested to cover some of the dead money cost so the team might facilitate the trade? I mean, can the Steelers ask Antonio Brown to cover some of his $21 million dead money cap hit if they do find a team willing to trade for him?
ANSWER: No. That would be against the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
MIKE FEDERICO FROM MEMPHIS, TN: Let's play the what-if game for a second: What if no trades for Antonio Brown materialize, and the Steelers refuse to release him, and he refuses to play, and he retires? What are the salary cap or other roster ramifications?
ANSWER: If Antonio Brown would announce his retirement in a few months because the Steelers don’t trade him or release him, the team most likely would put him on a reserve-retired list, which would allow them to retain his rights through the end of the contract he was under at the time of retirement. That prevents a player from “retiring” one offseason and then coming out of retirement the next offseason to play for a team of his choosing. As for the salary cap situation, a team is assessed the same dead-money charge whether a player is traded, is cut, or retires, and this provision is in the CBA to prevent a team from, say, giving a 39-year-old player a six-year, $50 million contract that includes a $25 million signing bonus despite knowing the guy is at the end of his career and set to retire.
DAVID HARRIGAN FROM HENDERSONVILLE, NC: With Antonio Brown wanting a trade, what happens if team refuses and tells him to play?
ANSWER: Then the Steelers would find themselves stuck with a disgruntled/disruptive player. As much as fans might like it to be true, a team cannot force a player to play and be happy/productive with that arrangement.
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: If the Steelers don't pick up Bud Dupree's fifth-year option, does he officially become an unrestricted free agent even if the team offers a longer-term , more cap-friendly deal he accepts?
ANSWER: On April 22, 2018, the Steelers exercised the fifth-year option on Bud Dupree’s rookie contract at a salary of $9.232 million for 2019. The team and player still are able to negotiate a deal at different terms, or the team can rescind its option and Dupree would become a free agent.
LOUIS HANSEN FROM GRANITE CITY, IL: Who would you pair at outside linebacker opposite T.J. Watt?
ANSWER: Lawrence Taylor. In his prime.