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There’s a case to be made that former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher should have a few more Super Bowl rings. Cowher and the Steelers were essentially a perennial Super Bowl contender from 2001 to 2005. The Steelers won one Super Bowl over that period, but two of their biggest playoff losses came against a team that engaged in questionable tactics.

That would be the New England Patriots, who defeated the Steelers in the playoffs in both 2001 and 2004. The Patriots were reportedly engaging in Spygate — in which they videotaped opponents’ coaches and practices — during that period.

You might think any coach who missed out on another ring would be upset about that, but Cowher took a different approach, according to Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.

“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” he told me. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught you’re wrong, if you don’t you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If he got the calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation (that tips off a play). You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.”

Cowher doesn’t blame the Patriots or Bill Belichick for those playoff losses. Instead, he said the Steelers didn’t make the proper adjustments. Cowher also didn’t fault the Patriots for engaging in Spygate, noting, “You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge.”

Bill Cowher’s legacy not impacted by Spygate 

Other coaches, especially ones without rings, might see it differently. In Cowher’s case, he managed to win it all in 2005. He also made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020. Those losses didn’t impact Cowher’s legacy, though playoff losses to the Patriots may have impacted how teams view John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Norv Turner today. 

All three of those coaches lost playoff games to the Patriots during that same period. 

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