For Cowher, Coaching Was Never the Priority
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
For more than three years, Bill Cowher has resisted the impulse to return to the sideline. He had not lost his fire so much as he had started a new life that did not make finding the next coaching job an urgent priority.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Bill Cowher with his wife, Kaye, after the Steelers beat the Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL in February 2006. Kaye received a diagnosis of melanoma earlier this year and died late last month.
Cowher, a former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, and his wife, Kaye, moved to Raleigh, N.C., during his final season with the Steelers in 2006 and watched their three daughters grow up. Cowher became a studio analyst for CBS Sports and took piano lessons.
But in February of this year, Kaye Cowher received a diagnosis of melanoma. Late last month, she died, at 54
“It was a quick and unfortunate downward spiral in five months’ time,” he said Tuesday at CBS’s Midtown headquarters. “They went in to remove what they thought was a muscle mass and after doing a needle biopsy, they found the melanoma and couldn’t really find a treatment to cure it.”
They met in 1976 after one of his football games at North Carolina State. She was a senior on the basketball team with her twin, Faye. He was a linebacker in his junior year. The sisters then played for the New York Stars and the New Jersey Gems of the Women’s Professional Basketball League.
He played for the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowhers married in 1983. During his coaching years, Cowher said, his wife “was mother and father during the football season.”
He added, “The one thing that she always gave me was stability at home.”
The speed with which Kaye Cowher died suggests the brutal seriousness of melanoma, especially when it is advanced. Dr. Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University, said that 70,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed each year in the United States and that 9,000 people died from the disease.
“It’s very serious, and unlike most forms of cancer, it’s increasing,” he said, citing exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning booths as the culprits for most cases. He added: “Most people who get melanoma don’t die. Most are cured. But of those who die, it’s usually more than five months after diagnosis.”
Cowher said that the pace of his wife’s illness was “a tough process.” Standing in a crowded conference room during CBS’s preseason media day, he said: “The medications she went through; the trial she tried, it really exasperated her. She had some moments of clarity in subsequent times. It was a very tough thing to go through and to watch.”
He added, “Cancer, very particularly melanoma, once it gets into your blood, it’s a difficult cancer to stop.”
He said all of this matter-of-factly, the familiar chin barely hidden behind the thin growth of his beard.
“Adversity comes in life,” he said. “I lost my father in April, but he was 87 and he lived a good life. You want to appreciate the memories and I don’t have any regrets. We did everything. The girls sacrificed things. When you have cancer and you have some time, you have a chance to say and do things, as opposed to when somebody passes away suddenly. We were able to cherish the special moments at the end.”
Now, he said, “We have to move on.”
The next step might be coaching but he is not in a rush. He enjoys the CBS job and has done well at it. “If the right situation occurred, I’d consider coaching,” he said. “But everyone asks, ‘What’s the right situation?’ I don’t know. I’m not sitting and looking at any one job.”
One thing he would not do if he returned is let HBO and NFL Films produce “Hard Knocks” at his training camp. He said he rejected their offer to follow him and the Steelers a few years ago. He said that he did not think the format was the best way to present football.
“It should be understood that there’s a responsibility to promote the game in a good light, but behind the scenes, tough things are said and tough decisions are made,” he said. “It’s important to promote the game the best way you can with the understanding that a lot of people are watching.”
He didn’t criticize Jets Coach Rex Ryan’s cursing on the current edition of “Hard Knocks,” as the former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has.
Cowher, who publicly fulminated (with expectorant) when he was the Steelers coach, recognizes that emotion makes coaches and players say things that are not for all ears.
“If you’re going to be seen by a national audience,” he said, “respect the game, respect the league, respect the people who are watching. There’s a responsibility to acting like a role model.”
One story about Kaye Cowher, which was related in her obituary in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, may color Cowher’s knock on “Hard Knocks.” A neighbor said that “Kaye let him have it” after she read curses on his lips during a Steelers game. The neighbor said that Cowher was told by his wife, “You’ve got three daughters, and you need to be an example to them and the community.” After that, the neighbor said, “he had to shape up.”
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