Originally created 09/29/03

Pittsburgh keeps churning out NFL coaches



PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh no longer is the world's top supplier of steel, yet can't be matched when it comes to one prized and well-compensated export.

Just call it the cradle of NFL coaches.

One-quarter of the AFC's 16 head coaches were born, raised and nurtured in one of the numerous football-crazy valley towns or hilltop hamlets that ring Pittsburgh and its three rivers. Altogether, five of the NFL's 32 coaches call the city or one of its surrounding communities home.

"It all comes from the hardworking style of western Pennsylvania, where guys played all sports, all positions, learned the game from the bottom up and were very competitive in everything they did," said Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who grew up in the area.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher sometimes heard the cheers from Three Rivers Stadium while playing ball outside his Crafton home. Saints coach Jim Haslett didn't get a Division I scholarship out of suburban Avalon, so he went to Division II Indiana (Pa.) and still became an NFL defensive rookie of the year for the Bills.

Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt strayed only a few miles from his Baldwin home to play college ball, and is one of seven Pitt graduates now coaching at various levels of the NFL. Lewis' aunt once was Marty Schottenheimer's baby sitter near tiny Midway; now, Schottenheimer coaches the Chargers.

Lewis and Schottenheimer go head-to-head Nov. 23 in a seldom-seen meeting of two NFL head coaches from the same high school - in their case, Fort Cherry High. That's a matchup that defies the odds, considering there are more than 13,600 football-playing high schools in the United States.

All five wear their team colors along the sidelines, but they never forget their blue-collar upbringings.

They grew up in working-class neighborhoods and saw college, and football, as a means to a better life.

"In any business, certainly our business, nobody's going to give you anything," Schottenheimer said. "You're going to have to work your tail off to get anything done and be successful. The hardworking background of western Pennsylvania is part of that."

Lewis also learned at a young age that, to the millhands and shop owners in his community, there was nothing more important than football, especially Steelers football. Even some of his relatives told him they'll root for the Bengals every week - every week, that is, they don't play the Steelers.

"You couldn't wait to go to the high school games on Friday night," Lewis said. "I remember going to see (former NFL players) Doug Kotar, Chuck Muncie. You looked forward to those nights ... everybody was in town and (went to) the pizza shops and places like that afterward. It was a special thing."

Florida, Texas and California may have supplanted western Pennsylvania as the main pipelines for NFL players, but the Pittsburgh region keeps turning out coaches, and not just head coaches.

Haslett's alma mater has five graduates in NFL coaching jobs. That doesn't count Bills president-general manager Tom Donahoe and assistant GM Tom Modrak, also IUP graduates.

This is the second wave of NFL coaches from Pittsburgh; the first included Chuck Knox, Ted Marchibroda, Joe Walton, Joe Bugel and Mike Nixon.

"Football is just part of the way of life in western Pennsylvania," Cowher said. "There's a great tradition, and it starts at an early age."

Associated Press sports writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this story.