There's an entire generation of football fans that know Bill Cowher as a laughing suit on CBS's NFL pregame show, not as the coach with the stare that could have ended the Cold War.
After 15 seasons, 149 wins, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl victory, Cowher walked away after the 2006 season and, to the surprise of many, hasn't returned since. He hasn't really come close, either. "I can honestly say I've never, ever gotten into a scenario where we discussed a contract," Cowher told Rolling Stone. "Everyone says, 'Well, what if they offer you this or that?' Let me tell you something: I'm a simple person who lives a simple life. When I was coaching, I wasn't worried about what I was making. I was worried about winning a championship. If I were to go back, it'd be to win a championship. It's got nothing to do with money or whatever."
His football fix has has been satisfied over the years as a member of The NFL Today for the past nine seasons, and adding the Thursday Night package has taken him around the league, exposing him to more football on a given Sunday than he ever saw in Pittsburgh.
And then, when his Sundays are over, Cowher returns to his Manhattan apartment and, every Monday, walks to the local market and picks the fruit he and his musician wife will eat that week.
"I never had this before. I really like it. I sleep now," he said. "I don't have a yellow notepad on my night table anymore. I like the ability to wake up and say, 'Well, now what are we going to do?'"
Cowher left, a year after winning Super Bowl XL and in the wake of an 8-8, playoff-less season, because he tired of living, as he called it, in a fish bowl.
"It got to the point in Pittsburgh sometimes where, if we won, I'd get gas during the day. And if we lost, I'd get gas at night, because I just didn't want to hear it, you know?" Cowher said. "During the day, if you won, people would say, 'Hey, good job!' But if you lost, everyone had an opinion. So you're getting gas and someone shouts, 'Hey coach, you should've been doing this or running that!' So I would get gas late at night on my way home from work. I knew a couple of places, way out, where no one would be. You'd just get out, pull your hat down and pump."
So now Cowher analyzes the game on Thursdays and Sundays, and does something entirely different the other 300-odd days of the year. And sometimes his former peers, current versions of the person he used to be, ask him what it's like on the other side.
"I've had a couple of people – prominent coaches – walk into an office, shut the door and say, 'What's it like, not coaching? They're scared. They're scared not to have that. And I'll tell them, 'You know, it's different. You're not going to replace coaching. But there's some normality that's out there, and that's also kind of refreshing.' I think you lose the ability to go have a normal dinner. The ability to go out to a park. Go traveling. Do the things you never did before."