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The Bill Cowher vs. Tom Donahoe Steelers Feud: Redrafting 1999

The Bill Cowher vs. Tom Donahoe Steelers Feud: Redrafting 1999

In this retrospective series, we’ll use 20/20 hindsight to play General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers to review past drafts – focusing primarily on top 2-3 selections – and personnel decisions year-by-year and redraft or implement trades based on the Steelers roster at the time.

General rule:  Any “redrafted” pick will generally fall within a 15-pick range and trade propositions being realistic and attainable.


Steelers situation and needs: 

  • Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher‘s relationship was deteriorating and they could no longer work together.
  • Cowher thought Donahoe was sabotaging him.  Donahoe thought Cowher had the talent but he couldn’t coach them to a championship.  There was zero trust between them.
  • Once promising QB Kordell Stewart, who got a big money contract, was lost without former OC Chan Gailey and under one-year OC Ray Sherman.
  • The 7-4 Steelers had the longest losing streak of the Cowher era, losing their last five games after the Thanksgiving Day coin flip debacle.



The Straw that broke the camel’s back

Redrafting 1999: 1st Round – #13 Overall; 2nd Round – #59 Overall

Bill Cowher wanted to draft Jevon Kearse, the DE who went on to be an All-Pro and win Rookie of the Year as he was a major force behind the Tennessee Titans reaching the Super Bowl.  Tom Donahoe loved David Boston, the freakishly good WR who had almost no chance of lasting to #13 (and did not), so he took the 5’10” WR Troy Edwards.  Edwards had a 61-catch rookie year, tying for the team lead with Hines Ward – but was entitled by his 1st round status and thought he didn’t need to beat out Ward in 2000.  That same Troy Edwards, whose illegal procedure penalty resulted in the loss of a booming 65-yard punt and the next punt was a 47-yarder that was returned for the first TD of the 2001 AFC Championship Game.

2nd round pick DB Scott Shields is best remembered for shaming the #47 in an attempt to replace Carnell Lake as a big play safety.  Donahoe traded down from the Steelers original 2nd round pick #43 to obtain an extra 3rd round pick – #73 and an extra 5th round pick – #163.   Shields seemed to have the tools – 6’4″ 225 lbs – and made an impact in as a rookie with 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble and a sack.   Shields made an impact as a rookie with 4 INTs, but seemed to have the same entitlement syndrome that Edwards had when he wasn’t elevated to starter in 2000.

With the extra 3rd round pick obtained earlier in the draft, the Steelers found a game changer with Joey Porter at #73. He excited everyone in preseason wearing #95 with all the big plays he made and was being referred to as “Baby Lloyd” – Porter was smart enough to not try to be the next Greg Lloyd but the first Joey Porter by changing to #55.  I’ll make the argument that over their career – Porter was better than Kearse, who I personally met and was no longer as vested in being an NFL star as Porter was focused on his whole career.  While Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward epitomized what it meant to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, Joey Porter grew to the beating heart of the franchise.

  • So does Donahoe get off the hook for getting pick #73 and Porter?
  •  What would you say about that if I told you the Steelers had three #3rd round picks and one of them was #74 – used to take OT Kris Farris who never played a game for the Steelers?

One more gem was discovered at pick #109 in the 4th round was Aaron Smith.  Smith was the best DE to wear a Steeler uniform since L.C. Greenwood and was so good that he was stopping plays from happening and you never realized it till he was gone.  The DL didn’t get the credit as much as they did the dirty work in that 3-4 scheme, but Smith still managed 44 sacks over his career and 2x taking the QB 8 times in a season.  He became a starter in 2000 and never let it go till injuries took their toll on his body and he could no longer do it. By then the Steelers won two Super Bowls with him anchoring LDE for a decade.

Grade B

  • Porter and Smith are A+. Quite frankly, the draft grade of B should be an F if it weren’t for these two guys.
  • In FA – the Steelers found a gem in former 1st round pick Wayne Gandy, who started all but one game at LT over the next 4 seasons and ranks among the best FA signings the Steelers have had. It was a pretty sizeable deal: 4 years, $14M with a $3.8M signing bonus and according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was former teammate with the Rams Jerome Bettis who convinced Gandy to come to Pittsburgh.  Gandy was similar to Jason Gildon, a key star player who fell in between the near great teams of the 90s and the Super Bowl Champions of the mid 2000s and is often overlooked.
  • Amos Zereoue was the Steelers third 3rd round pick and had up and down moments.
  • K Kris Brown was everyone’s worst nightmare of a kicker – missing 4 out of 5 FGs in what should have been a demolition win but turned out to be a loss to the Baltimore Ravens and having a kick blocked and returned for a TD in the AFC Championship Game.  He was terrible in Heinz Field (68% in 2001) and this draft directly resulted in two players that gave up 14 special teams points in that AFC Championship Game.



Redrafting 1999: The chicken or the egg?

Bill Cowher was right and Jevon Kearse should have been the Steelers pick.

But if they did draft Kearse – would they have drafted Joey Porter still?  It’s an unknown, but hypothetically, if you had to choose – who would it have been?  In researching the tale of the tape, Kearse clearly wins hands down in their rookie years – but it gets very close after Porter’s first year of starting in 2000 and over their respective careers, Porter wins in a landslide.  Ideally, the Steelers choose them both.

And given the horrible memories of Edwards and Shields, it would have been a perfect year to offer the first and second (and a 3rd) to move up if they had a dance partner to obtain Daunte Culpepper, Chris McAllister or Champ Bailey.  Heck, they could have traded them away for more draft capital in 2000 when they were trying very hard to move up and acquire pick….but that’s for the next review.

Comments or thoughts? Leave them below.


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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