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When he stopped coaching, he started learning how to play the piano. He played a lot of tennis—one of his favorite perks at CBS is the access he gets to the U.S. Open. Unlike so many retirees who talk about spending time with family, he actually used his retirement from coaching to spend a lot of his time with his three daughters and especially with his wife, Kaye, who died last year of skin cancer. He does not talk publicly about her painful last months.
And now? He has an apartment in New York City and a house in North Carolina. He often travels to California to see his daughter Meagan, who is married to Los Angeles Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth. He has Saturday dinners in New York with his daughter Lauren. And he gets back to Carolina frequently to visit his youngest daughter, Lindsay, at Elon University. He is involved in many ventures and charities—Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Family Resources of Pittsburgh, the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. "I guess I'm not like others, who have regrets about not spending enough time with their families," he says. "I always spent a lot of time with family when I was coaching. I built my schedule around them. But it's still different now. I am free to do things. You're really not free to do things when you are a coach. You live inside a bubble. You spend every minute solving problems."
Former coach Tony Dungy, who works for NBC and is the subject of numerous coaching rumors himself, runs into Cowher now and again in New York, and they talk about things that only former coaches can really understand. "People think the problem is how hard you work or how many hours, but that's not it," Dungy says. "When you're coaching, you know exactly where you are going to be every minute of every day. If you had asked me in June where I would be on November 13 at 3 p.m., I could have told you. That's the hard part. You have your whole life mapped out."
When told of Dungy's comments, Cowher nods. He admits he misses the relationships with players and coaches and the competition, but he loves the ones he's built with Marino, Sharpe, Esiason and Brown. "We really like each other," Cowher says. "We go to dinners. We argue about football, just like on TV." More than that, he loves the freedom to simply live his life, to travel, to golf, to read, to do interesting things. To watch football.
"Look at that," he says while scanning the wall of televisions in the CBS studio that show every football game. "I don't think I could even imagine going back to watching only one game at a time."
Then he says, "If I did go back, I think I would be a better coach because of this experience. I'm just more aware now of what teams are doing, how coaches attack different things...."
He stops and sort of smiles. That jaw makes it look like a big grin. He knows how people will take what he's saying. "I don't miss it enough to go back," he repeats. "I can't predict the future. Maybe someday it will change. But to be quite honest with you, I don't think so."
The coach who won't coach has a little habit he indulges before the pregame show. He will sit in his chair, looking angry, and then shout out to the production people, "Hey, is this on tape?"
And they yell back, "No, Coach, it's live."
This exchange never fails to crack up everyone around him.