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Two classy sportsmen take a bow

January 14, 2007|by BILL KOHLER

You can learn a lot from a football coach.

Professional and college football coaches are not rocket scientists, and their work will never be entered for Nobel Prize consideration.

They won't teach you quantum physics or how to figure out the proper way to write a sentence.

Most of them won't even call people by their first names, and some flat-out lie to the media until the convenient time to tell the truth - or until the millions are big enough to set them free.

One football coach has impressed me from the day he started until the day he retired last Friday.

This coach called reporters by name (granted, you can do that when you coach the same team for 15 years), looked his players in the eye and wore his heart on his sleeve for all to see.

He was living his dream and wasn't afraid to tell everyone.

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Bill Cowher, who stepped down last week as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, could teach us all a few lessons in loyalty, gratitude and being a good person.

In the media, we come in contact with a wide range of people - good and bad. During the mid-1980s and early '90s, I covered sports. I was fortunate enough to cover about 10 or 12 Buffalo Bills games at then-Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

I saw pro athletes and coaches, and cringed at how some of them looked down their noses at the media and carried themselves at what they perceived was a higher level than the rest of us.

In fact, the spoiled-athlete, holier-than-thou attitude of our sources was part of the reason why I left sports for the news side.

When Cowher was hired in January 1992, I wrote a sports column that blasted the Steelers for hiring this unknown, unproven coach who grew up in a Pittsburgh suburb. How was this Cowher guy going to fill the shoes of the great Chuck Noll?

Two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl win, a 161-99-1 record, six trips to the AFC title game and 10 playoff appearances in 15 seasons.

Shows you what I knew then.

What I know now is what I've seen as a football fan and grown man. What I know now is that this football coach gave it his all at his job. He was hard-nosed and hardworking. He was dedicated to his craft, his company and the people who paid his salary - the fans. He was a skilled motivator who hated to lose and got the most out of his players and coaches.

He also was, by all accounts, devoted to his family and loyal to the people who gave him his shot.

And in the end, he left for all the right reasons.

We can learn a lot from a football coach.

Perhaps, if all of us had a little bit of this football coach in us, things would be different in the world.

Perhaps, we would get more done at work, be better husbands or wives, father or sons.

Perhaps, more drive to be the best we can be instead of just average would be contagious - like it was for this football coach.

Thanks for laying the blueprint, Bill Cowher.

And speaking of positive people, another solid role model in sports and in life was in the news this week.

Cal Ripken, the face of the Baltimore Orioles franchise, was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute for a guy who, like Cowher, laid a blueprint that we could follow.

Ripken was certainly more mellow than Cowher; his drive was quieter and buried deep within. His streak of playing in 2,632 consecutive games likely will never be broken and will stand as a symbol of a guy who worked hard, came to play every day and never complained.

He could have bolted for more money during the throes of free agency. He stayed home and went to work. He had a family to feed and an employer to satisfy.

Granted, Ripken was being paid a lot of money to play baseball, but he always took the high road, always stayed to sign autographs, seemed to always make time for the media and did a lot for charity and to promote youth baseball.

He's still doing that today.

The lesson here? Role models come in all shapes, sizes and arenas.

If we make the time, we can learn a lot about winning, loyalty, dedication and the rewards of hard work in the oddest of places.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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