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Patience is rewarded


In a week that kicked off the firing season with a flurry of coaching dismissals, Jack Del Rio singled out a coach who wasn't fired.

"It's nice to see, as part of the coaching profession, to see Mr. Rooney stick with him this season and let him right the ship," Del Rio said of Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who has reversed his team's fortunes from 6-10 last year to 10-1 this season.

The Steelers are the rarest of franchises when it comes to patience with coaches. Cowher is the NFL's longest-tenured head coach. He has been the Steelers' field boss since 1992, and he succeeded a man, Chuck Noll, who had been the Steelers' head coach since 1969.

What it means is the Steelers have had only two head coaches in 36 seasons. By comparison, the Chargers have had 13 head coaches during that same period of time.

These are tough times for football coaches. They are being fired at an alarming rate, as owners and fans are becoming increasingly impatient. Even Notre Dame has joined in the fire-the-coach mania.

Meanwhile, the Steelers resist the trend. Cowher experienced consecutive losing seasons in 1998 and '99, but kept his job. When the Steelers slumped last season, it was brought to attention that Cowher had coached the Steelers to losing seasons in three of the last six years, and speculation was that he would be on thin ice this season.

So what did the Rooneys do? They gave Cowher a new contract. Now, they're glad they did and everyone is pointing to the Steelers as the example of how to do it. But nobody is doing it that way. The firing season is upon us. Coaches beware.

"I think as everyone has looked at it, there are up years, there are down years," Cowher said of his tenure in Pittsburgh. "The most important thing is to deal with where you are, try to make the changes and fix what needs to be fixed.

"You come in every year with high expectations, as we do here, and take the journey one game at a time. Anything that can happen usually does. I don't think you can ever start questioning yourself. Certainly you change and you grow older and you, hopefully, get a little bit better as a coach and you keep learning. I'd like to think that's what is taking place here," Cowher added.

It appears to be what's taking place in Jacksonville, too. In his second season as head coach, Del Rio has taken the Jaguars from 5-11 to 6-5. Though the Jaguars are in danger of falling out of the playoffs race, they could re-establish themselves as being firmly in the hunt with a win over Cowher's Steelers on Sunday night.

That's the positive spin on the Jaguars' season and Del Rio's brief tenure as the team's coach. The fortunes of the franchise have been reversed. They are on the upswing.

"I think it's neat that we can talk about that in late November," Del Rio said of the playoffs race at the start of this week. "It hasn't been like that for awhile around here."

It wasn't like that in Pittsburgh last season. Now, the Steelers are tied for the best record in the NFL.

Patience would seem to truly be a virtue.

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