RALEIGH, N.C. – Kaye Cowher, the wife of ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher and a former basketball player at North Carolina State and in the now-defunct Women's Professional Basketball League, has died of skin cancer. She was 54.
Cowher died Friday in her native North Carolina, where the family relocated at her urging during Cowher's final year as coach in 2006, one season after the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The family had lived since in Raleigh.
"Kaye was such a loving and compassionate person and she was the foundation of our family," Bill Cowher, now an NFL analyst with CBS, said in a statement Saturday. "Kaye was always at my side throughout my career as a player, coach, NFL analyst and, most importantly, as a parent to our three daughters."
He added: "Kaye was the rock that we could all lean on in the tough times. She was looked up to by so many people and I cannot say enough about what Kaye meant to our family."
Kaye Cowher and other family members were often seen cheering from a private box at Steelers home games during Bill Cowher's 15 seasons as coach from 1992-2006. The Steelers lost four AFC championship games — all at home — before finally winning the Super Bowl, and Kaye Cowher was repeatedly seen consoling her husband following those defeats.
Steelers president Art Rooney II said: "Kaye was a very private person who was very devoted to her family. Kaye made many friends in our organization and our community."
The Cowhers met at North Carolina State, where Bill played linebacker before beginning an NFL career. They married in 1981, after the former Kaye Young played alongside twin sister Faye in college and during a three-season pro basketball career.
After leading North Carolina State to a 29-5 record and the first Atlantic Coast Conference women's title in 1978, the sisters played one season with the New York Stars and two with the New Jersey Gems in a league that was a forerunner to the WNBA. During the twins' WPBL careers, they filmed a Wrigley Doublemint gum commercial.
At the time of her death, Kaye Cowher served on the North Carolina State Board of Visitors, which advises the school's chancellor and board of trustees. The Cowhers returned to Raleigh even before Bill Cowher's NFL coaching career ended partly because of their close ties to the university and the friends they made during college.
Besides her husband, Kaye Cowher is survived by daughters Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay. Meagan and Lauren played basketball at Princeton and Lindsay plays at Wofford.
A private funeral service will be held Monday in North Carolina.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects college Cowher's daughters went to to Princeton instead of Harvard.)