Bill Cowher finished his coaching career with two Super Bowl appearances. He could have had two more, but for AFC Championship encounters with the Patriots in 2001 and 2004.
Cowher’s new autobiography, written with Michael Holley, debuts today. The book contains no mention of Spygate, the cheating scandal that became an asterisk to the first three Super Bowls won by New England under Bill Belichick.
Cowher explained his reasoning in an interview with Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com. Put simply, Cowher accepts the fact that rules get bent and broken all the time in football.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher told Bouchette. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught you’re wrong, if you don’t you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If [Belichick] got the [defensive] calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation [that tips off a play]. You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.”
The problem with Spygate came from the manner in which the edge was obtained. The Patriots videotaped defensive coaching signals, in violation of the rules. And they got caught.
Other rules get broken. Cowher’s attitude seems to be that, as long as you’re not caught, it’s not cheating. For example, Cowher writes in his book that, when he weighed in at the N.C. State Pro Day in advance of his entry to the NFL, he slipped a weighted plate in his pants, so that he’d be heavier. He compared that act of cheating to the Patriots’ acts of cheating.
Cowher also insists that any knowledge that the Patriots may have had about the defensive coaching signals made no difference.
“We didn’t lose the game because of that,” Cowher said. “We lost the game because they executed better than we did.”
Right, but it’s always easier to execute when knowing what the opponent will do. Uncertainty fuels hesitation, which enhances execution. If you know what the other team is doing, execution immediately becomes enhanced.
Cowher may have downplayed Spygate because cheating is more widespread than most realize (it is), or because he didn’t want his book to undermine his relationship with Belichick. (Plenty of punches get pulled when it’s time to put pen to paper, for that very reason.)
“We go back pretty far,” Cowher said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He loves the game. We shared a lot of time together and time off the field, teaching each other about linebacker play and defensive backfield play. It came down to us being finalists for the 1991 Cleveland Browns job and he got the job and I didn’t. We went from friends to adversaries the next year because I found myself the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As we competed against each other it was just a great competition.”
All’s fair in competition, apparently. Including cheating — especially if you don’t get caught at it.