|| Kaye Cowher: On the Record
By Deborah Weisberg, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Growing up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina prepared Kaye Cowher for elbows and jabs under a basketball hoop, for running a household and for raising three daughters when their father is often away.
And it has helped her to cope with the pressure of being the wife of Steelers coach Bill Cowher in a year filled with defeats on the football field and gossip about their personal life.
"When we moved here, we embraced the city and the city embraced us. This year it's going in a different direction. We can handle it. We told the girls we can handle it."
She was referring to unsubstantiated talk about her husband's infidelity that has popped up on the Internet, in taverns and on the streets of Pittsburgh.
Kaye Cowher was asked about the gossip in an interview last week about her basketball background and her volunteer work as a coach in Fox Chapel.
"Absolutely no truth to it," she said. "My husband being attacked for calling the wrong plays or using the wrong players goes with the territory, but it has crossed the line."
At one point, she agreed to call her husband to the phone. After talking about his pride in his wife's coaching work and the support she has provided him this season, he also was asked to address the innuendo.
"It's ridiculous. It's absurd," he said. "And when you question a person's character and morals, it crosses a boundary."
About his wife of 16 years, Cowher said, "She's never wanted the spotlight. She's happiest down at the gym, coaching kids' basketball on Saturday mornings."
A former professional player and Dannon Yogurt advertising model, Kaye Cowher is a volunteer coach of fourth-graders in a league in Fox Chapel. She said she's treated like any other coach.
"It doesn't matter to the kids who I am."
Her three daughters attend public schools in the Fox Chapel school district and play basketball.
"If I ever had to show my inner strength to my kids, now's the time," she said as she got ready to accompany her husband to yesterday's game in Kansas City.
She was planning to visit friends they made during their time in there, one of several stops in Bill Cowher's career as a player and coach in the NFL.
The Cowhers met when they were classmates at North Carolina State University in 1976. Bill was on the football team and Kaye and her twin sister, Faye, were on full basketball scholarships.
"A junior high teacher introduced me to basketball because I was tall for my age," said Kaye Cowher, who is 5 foot 10 and always played forward.
"I didn't handle the ball well enough to play guard," she said with a laugh. "I was not a great shooter, but I was good at rebounding and defense. Playing basketball was a whole lot easier than working in the tobacco fields, and being on scholarship gave me the opportunity to get an education that my parents could not have afforded to provide."
"Kaye was never given anything," said her husband. "She developed a strong work ethic and strong morals as a result."
Kaye and her sister were good enough to be recruited by the New York Stars, a team in the trailblazing Women's Basketball League. They did television commercials for Dannon Yogurt. Kaye and Bill dated long-distance.
"She was living in New York and making $24,000 a year, which was a lot more than I was, since I'd gotten cut from Philadelphia," he said.
After about three years, the WBA disbanded.
Kaye Cowher said, "Most of the girls went to Europe to play, and I married Bill," who was then playing for the Cleveland Browns.
Their daughters Meagan, 13, and Lauren, 12, were born in Cleveland. Nine-year-old Lindsay was born in Kansas City. Like their parents, each of the girls is tall, and, like their mother, each loves basketball. Meagan's a forward and Lauren's a guard.
"At her age, Lindsay plays everything. She's the tallest kid in the whole third grade. She says she's tired of standing in the back row with all the boys every time they take a class picture," Kaye Cowher said, laughing again.
She said she has been careful to keep their children "off the roller coaster, where going up the hill means you inevitably have to come down. There's a lot to be said for kids living a simpler life. We're all tremendously competitive, and no one thinks losing is fun, but our kids know how to accept it."
That competitive spirit comes through in both coaches in the family.
"I'm passionate about basketball and I love working with young kids," she said. "They come with a clean slate, no bad habits, and wonderful supportive parents."
Kaye Cowher said she coaches because she wants to help kids develop confidence in themselves.
"It's so important for kids in middle school years to have self-esteem and to feel good about their bodies. And the most important thing, above all, is that sports be fun.
"I'm proud of what she's doing with the kids," said Cowher, who added that he tries to make as many of his daughters' basketball games as the Steelers' travel schedule allows.
"Six months of the year, Kaye has to be both mom and dad to the kids. She has to make decisions regarding the house, our money. Kaye's done a great job in showing our kids that dad has a job like anyone else. In my job, every Monday morning, I get judged."
"We're like any other family," Kaye Cowher said, "except that, with my husband's job, there is a very public aspect to all of it. But when Bill walks in the door, he's just dad. We bring him down to earth."
She acknowledged this had been a particularly difficult year for her husband, for the Steelers' organization and for their family.
"We sit down and talk about things," she said. "We walk through them, not around them. We tell our kids that most people are very well-intentioned. My oldest daughter has a lot of wisdom and experience. She has a mature grasp on things."
Bill Cowher said the Steelers players have been "very supportive."
"And the Rooneys, who are family-oriented, have been wonderful," said his wife.
Cowher said he goes to his wife for advice.
"It's lonely at the top and I'm fortunate to have someone to bounce things off of. We've been together a long time. She's very perceptive about people and situations. She tells me when I'm wrong."
Outside of football, Kaye Cowher said, her husband's passion is golf, a sport she has begun to play herself.
"They won't let me on the course at the club where we belong yet," she joked. "But I'm working on it. This man is my soul-mate. And golf is something we can do together when we're 80."
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