Quick now, what do Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher and John Harbaugh have in common … other, of course, than coaching Super Bowl champions?
Answer: They all got their NFL coaching starts as special-teams assistants.
So that begs the question: Why aren't more special-teams coordinators hired as head coaches? After Harbaugh won Super Bowl XLVIII in February, 2013, I was sure he'd crack the glass ceiling for others to follow. But he didn't. No special-teams coach has been hired as a head coach since.
"It's a good question," Cowher said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "Sometimes (special teams) does get devalued. We talk about it every year. We're going to take away the kickoff, we're going to move back the extra point. The safety issue has become such a big part of the game.
"(But) good special teams that are done year in and year out should be looked at because these are coaches now who are adapting to the game -- the changing … and ever-changing … game. Safety has to be in the forefront of everything we do, and I get that. (But) I agree that we have to sit back and take a greater look because you're talking about a philosophical approach to the game when you're trying to bring offensive and defensive players together, which is the same thing … and your same role … as a head coach."
Cowher, now an analyst with The NFL Today on CBS, primarily played special teams in his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns and earned his first NFL job coaching special teams in 1985 with the Browns. Those experiences helped him realize the importance of special teams when he was hired as head coach by Pittsburgh, where he led the Steelers to two Super Bowls and one Lombardi Trophy and where he was named 1992 NFL Coach of the Year.
Belichick, meanwhile, began his NFL coaching career as a special-teams assistant in Detroit, while Harbaugh was the special-teams coordinator in Philadelphia. Belichick has five Lombardi Trophies and eight Super Bowl appearances, while Harbaugh won the only Super Bowl he reached as a head coach.
"So you sit there," said Cowher, "and you look at Bill, you look at John and you look at myself, and you're hearing the same concepts involved when you're talking about the meetings ... in terms of everybody doing their role, no one person is bigger than the other and, I think, the value that we put on a special-teams player and special-teams play in general. We realize how integral a part it is in winning football games.
"So I think there should be more opportunities for special-teams coaches. Just give them a chance to get in the room, listen to them, look at what their stats are -- just like you do with offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators. But you know what? Hire a person. Don't just look at them. Make sure you listen to a person. Sometimes there are some special men out there who have a way to resonate with players."