RALEIGH — NC State inducted legendary NFL coach Bill Cowher into its Ring of Honor between the first and second quarter of its game last Friday against the Louisville Cardinals.
“When Boo [Corrigan] and Dave [Doeren] told me that they were going to do this tonight, I was doing a coaching clinic down here during spring training,” Cowher said. “It was very moving. I came here as a boy from Pittsburgh — Crafton, Pennsylvania. I came down here in the most formative years of my life, and a lot of it was me growing up to be a man on that football field down there. It has shaped my entire life. I met the mother of my three daughters. I have seven grandkids to this date. So coming back here is very, very special. I feel very humbled by it all.”
Cowher is the 12th inductee into the Ring of Honor — joining Dick Christy, Roman Gabriel, Dennis Byrd, Bill Yoest, Ted Brown, Jim Ritcher, Torry Holt, Philip Rivers, Mario Williams, Russell Wilson and Bradley Chubb — and the first who’s also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cowher was recruited by coach Lou Holtz and was a starting linebacker for the Wolfpack from 1975-78. His 195 stops in 1978 are NC State’s single-season record, and his 371 career tackles rank seventh in school history.
“Throughout his career, Bill Cowher has epitomized what Wolfpack football is all about,” Doeren said in the initial release. “He is a true mentor, leader, and icon in the coaching profession, and we are so proud to be able to honor him in Carter-Finley Stadium alongside other NC State legends.”
Cowher went on to play five seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns before starting his NFL coaching career as a special teams coach with the Browns.
But before giving coaching in the NFL a shot, Cowher first circled back to his alma mater.
“Bo Ryan gave me a chance to come back when I got cut in Philadelphia to become a grad assistant,” Cowher said. “Actually, my first indoctrination into coaching was coaching down here as a GA.”
Cowher then had a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs as defensive coordinator, but at just 35 years old, he was hired as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, replacing Chuck Noll in 1992.
As the Steelers’ coach, Cowher led his team for 15 seasons, capturing eight division titles, two conference titles and a Super Bowl championship in 2006. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1992 and 2004, and he became the youngest coach (38) in NFL history to lead his team to a Super Bowl in 1995.
“I just remember my teammates,” Cowher said of his time at NC State. “As much as I remember anything, I just remember the camaraderie that we had, the closeness we had and the brotherhood we had. We had a close team. We were a tough team. We had each other’s backs. I just remember that part of it.
“Leaving here and finding myself coaching five or six years later, I just remember that was the kind of culture that I wanted to build. It takes time to get the right people who believe in the same things and are committed to the right things, and that was forged here.”
Cowher further credited his time at NC State, and more specifically the College of Education, as the building blocks of his coaching philosophy.
“I graduated from [the College of Education] and I’m very proud to be from there,” Cowher said. “I always said that coaching is teaching, and I learned so much being here through that. So I think that my time here — the four and a half years I spent — was very, very instrumental in my upbringing.
“I may have grown on that field, but I probably grew even more off the field. I just had the chance to share what this area is all about and what the Triangle is all about and what this university is all about. It’s a little blue-collar to me. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, worked in a steel mill, and somehow, when I come back down here to Raleigh, North Carolina, I still feel that same sense of blue-collar. That same sense of work ethic, pride, commitment, trust and opportunity. That’s what this school, to me, offers. It gives you a little bit of everything and that’s what you need in life to be successful.”
After retiring from coaching in 2006, Cowher moved on to broadcasting, becoming a studio analyst for “The NFL Today.”
“Bill Cowher has left an indelible mark on the game of football and is certainly beloved by Wolfpack Nation,” Corrigan said. “It is an absolute privilege to recognize his remarkable contributions and celebrate his outstanding career.”