Bill Cowher is calmer and more centered than he’s ever been.
It might be an odd image for football fans to grapple with, considering the former NFL head coach and player is most associated with the fiery, colorful personality he displayed for 15 seasons on the sidelines coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowls, finally taking home a Lombardi Trophy in 2006.
But Cowher, who is entering his 13th season as a part of the network’s long-running studio show, The NFL Today, is enjoying the work-life balance that comes from covering the league on television. “Coach,” as his CBS colleagues call him, travels often, spends lots of time with his three grown children (and five grandchildren), and enjoys parts of life that had been out of his grasp for the better part of his adult life.
“I live a more holistic life now that I ever did before," the still-imposing 62-year-old Cowher told the Inquirer during a recent press event in New York City. “I’m much more empathetic these days. I’m also not as intense.”
“I’ve also become a full-time New Yorker, which I never thought would happen,” the Western Pennsylvania native joked.
Despite having last coached in the league more than a decade ago, Cowher’s name still manages to come up once coaches start being fired. As recently as the 2018 offseason, after the New York Giants fired Ben McAdoo, news reports suggested Cowher could be considered for the vacancy that was ultimately filled by former Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. But don’t expect Cowher to pull a Jon Gruden and leave broadcasting to return to the NFL’s head coaching ranks.
“He obviously could have made tremendously more money coaching, but he decided the life he wanted to lead was much more suited to being an NFL Today analyst that it was being a coach,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.
“I don’t foresee myself going back to coaching,” Cowher said.
For now, Cowher is thriving at CBS, fitting in with a crew largely made of up former players, including Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, and Nate Burleson.
McManus said Cowher has been a great teammate and mentor on the show, and his coaching habits surface in the form of trying to make everyone — including himself — a better broadcaster.
“One of the things I think he’s gotten better at, and this sounds strange, is toning down his enthusiasm,” McManus said of Cowher. “He gets so passionate and excited about what he’s talking about that he sometimes gets ahead of himself, talks too quickly, and gets all fired up. I’ll have to say to him occasionally, ‘Hey, take a break, Coach. Just slow down a little bit.’ “
It was Cowher’s strong presence and stature that made him an obvious choose for the network’s studio show back in 2006, McManus said, noting the former coach is “the kind of guy you want to see talking.” The studio also affords Cowher the opportunity to express his opinions more often and freely than calling games would. But he has called one game for CBS — a 2013 match-up between the Jets and Steelers alongside Simms and play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz.
“I enjoyed it, but I love coming [into the studio] and thinking about the plethora of games that we get to watch and talk about," Cowher said. “I’ve gotten so used to being able to watch six games at once... alongside guys who have played the game.”
Cowher has been a broadcaster and coach for so long that people forget he played five seasons in the NFL as an undrafted linebacker out of North Carolina State University. He spent his final two seasons playing for the Eagles, where he notably broke the leg of then-Chicago Bears punt returner Jeff Fisher, who also went on become an NFL head coach.
So, what does Cowher think of this year’s Eagles team? When asked, he praised head coach Doug Pederson’s leadership, called the Birds defense “stacked," and said if Carson Wentz can stay on the field, he’ll be among the best quarterbacks in the league.
But then Cowher stopped for a second, smiled, and simply said, “I think they’re really strong."