Pittsburgh Steelers. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Cowher: Known as a defensive-minded coach, Bill Cowher was the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs leading up to Chuck Noll’s retirement in 1991. Art Rooney Sr. had passed away in 1988, so his son Dan was now in control and brought in Cowher as the new head coach.
Cowher was well aware he had big shoes to fill and had a tough assignment ahead of him. Fans in Steelers Nation and Black and Gold faithful everywhere had become accustomed to winning and taking Lombardi Trophies. Nothing less would be satisfactory.
In his first year as head coach, Bill Cowher did not disappoint. Coming off Chuck Noll’s final season that saw the Steelers finish 7-9, Cowher’s first team ended winning 11 of the 16 games played and winning back the AFC Central Division title but losing in the first round of the divisional playoffs to the Buffalo Bills 24-3.
Cowher and the Steelers would spend the next five seasons landing in the post-season, but not being able to win a Super Bowl. In those five ensuing playoff appearances, there was a wild-card game loss; a conference championship loss twice; another divisional game loss; and the infamous loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season, a game which all Steelers fans will remember as the one that Neil O’Donnell became a big-time goat.
The bottom line was however that Bill Cowher had established himself as a tough, gritty coach with the same attitude he displayed when he was a linebacker in the NFL. Cowher was animated; and often showed frustration and anger; became known as “The Chin” for that feature on his face; and also as the spitter for when he got really heated and was yelling, he would sometimes spew his saliva.
Many will remember the Monday Night Football incident against the Jacksonville Jaguars when the Steelers were attempting a field goal, and it was blocked, the Jags’ Chris Hudson picked up the loose ball and raced down the sidelines towards a game-deciding touchdown. As he passed Bill Cowher, the Steelers head coach made a gesture like he was going to punch Hudson as he streaked by but The Chin held back. Said Cowher at the time, “I could have tackled him. It crossed my mind. But thank God I didn’t.” Some Jaguars fans have never forgiven Cowher for that night.
As a player, Bill Cowher, who is also a Pittsburgh native (Crafton), played his college ball at North Carolina State. From there he had to be a walk on in the NFL as he went undrafted in 1979. The Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on him, and Cowher lasted just one season. From 1980 to 1982, Cowher was a Cleveland Brown and then went back to the Eagles from 1983-1984. Mostly serving time as a special teams player, Cowher excelled there.
Perhaps Cowher’s claim to fame was in 1983 when the Eagles were playing the Chicago Bears and ironically, another head coach to be Jeff Fisher was playing wide receiver and returning kicks for the Bears. In that game, Fisher was returning a punt when he encountered Bill Cowher who tackled Fisher so hard, it broke his leg.
Following Super Bowl XXX, Bill Cowher’s Steelers teams would make the playoffs the next two seasons but could not get back to the big dance and then from 1998 until 2001, his teams missed the post-season entirely. From 2001 until he finally hung up his whistle in 2006, the Steelers and Cowher made the playoffs four of the next six seasons.
Cowher finally won his first and only Super Bowl ring and Lombardi Trophy number 40 as the Steelers dumped the Seattle Seahawks in 2005 giving the franchise their fifth Super Bowl title in history and sending Jerome Bettis into retirement as a champion. This year “The Bus” goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As for Cowher, he returned the next season to try to repeat but instead finished 8-8 and called it a day.
While serving as head coach of the Steelers, Bill Cowher put together assistants for his staff that would go on to better and bigger roles. Among the more famous men who coached with the Steelers under Cowher were Dom Capers, Chan Gailey, Jim Haslett, Mike Mularkey, Ken Whisenhunt, Dick LeBeau (now with the Tennessee Titans), Marvin Lewis, and Bruce Arians. All of those coaches became head coaches around the NFL.
Following his retirement, Cowher was in huge demand by several teams to un-retire and be a head coach again, but he opted to go into broadcasting and is one of the most respected analysts on television today. On a personal side, Cowher was married to his wife Kaye who was also a pro basketball player until her untimely death from skin cancer in 2010. Many fans will remember Cowher consoling one of his daughters following the Super Bowl XXX loss to the Dallas Cowboys. With two other daughters as well, all three played college basketball (Meagan, Lauren, Lindsay).
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