Watching Coach Bill Cowher's press conferences on television during Steelers season is both hysterical and aggravating. The guy can barely contain himself. He wants to punch anyone who dares ask a question he feels is impertinent -- which would pretty much be anyone asking a question. This kind of imperious attitude has served jocks well since the beginning of time. They convince more timid sports reporters to back off. They try to create the impression of being noble, intense gladiators who remain above the fray.
But nobility is often the last thing involved in these games that we pay young men millions of dollars to play -- and old men millions to watch over. These guys claim to be professionals. But often they're just bloodthirsty hotheads who can't wait to take their rage out on somebody else. That serves them well when they're at the line of scrimmage, facing an equally muscle-bound crazed lunatic. It does not necessarily serve them well when they're on the sidelines: Their tempers remain intact and they want to hit someone but they can't. So what do they do? If they have the power, they fire someone.
Coach Cowher has the power, and just proved it by firing Steelers punter Josh Miller. The punter Cowher replaced him with, Cincinnati's Chris Gardocki, has virtually the same stats. There was absolutely no logical reason to get rid of Miller, unless it was a grudge held by the Chief Petty Officer.
What could Miller have done to earn Da Coach's enmity? He had the nerve to make a critical decision about the rest of his life, and he chose his health over the team. Miller decided to skip the 2002 playoffs and have shoulder surgery. He told me at the time that his doctor informed him there could be disastrous consequences if he waited, and that the team doctor concurred.
I know, I know -- there's no "I" in team. But whenever I see a profile of some ex-pro athlete loser who's poor and dumb, or fat and handicapped, or drunk and crazy, I think about how these poor dumb sons of bitches should have thought a lot more about the future back in the day.
It's one thing to play hurt. It's another thing to permanently injure yourself for no good reason. And I'm sorry, Stiller fans: Even winning the freaking playoffs is not worth your long-term health.
Josh wasn't just concerned about his body. He was afraid his shoulder would give out at the wrong moment and he'd blow a snap, perhaps in a critical playoff situation. Then, of course, the imperial Coach wouldn't have to fire him: Drunken Stiller fans would kill him instead.
Josh did the right thing, realizing there would be other seasons but only one shoulder. But Coach Pompous disagreed. There was a legendary argument between Cowher and Miller at the 2002 Steelers Christmas party, briefly alluded to in Mark Madden's recent Post-Gazette column on Miller's firing. Leave it to Coach Class to ruin the company Christmas party with his personal grudge.
Miller doesn't want to burn any bridges, so I couldn't get any juicy quotes out of him in my brief conversation with him at his off-season home in Jupiter, Fla. But I can't help but think Miller had the audacity to talk back to God at the party in part because he had had enough. Remember when Da Coach publicly humiliated Miller on national TV with a tirade worthy of Sgt. Carter and Gomer Pyle, early on in Miller's eight-year career with the team?
Coaches get paid to scream at players like they're 3 years old, but an unnecessary childish public humiliation like that has got to stick in your craw. This time, Josh didn't take it.
Josh will land on his feet, upon which he's made a very nice living. But the Steelers don't just lose an excellent punter. They lose a gifted PR force: a glib, humorous host of a weekly WDVE Steeler show and likable guest on talk shows all over town. He was willing to go out and sell the notion that, despite bad management decisions that led to a disastrous 6-10 season, the Steelers were worth the price of admission. That's like selling ice to Eskimos.
Good luck, Josh. Da Coach has a new lapdog. Da Coach is God, long live Da Coach.