Cowher: Ben Roethlisberger maturing

NEW YORK -- Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher says it was hard to get through to Ben Roethlisberger after the quarterback had so much success early in his career.

Yet Cowher believes the sexual assault investigation that led to a six-game suspension for Roethlisberger was a "slap in the face" that has led to some much-needed maturity.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Cowher described how Roethlisberger used to respond to advice about his off-field behavior. "'But we're winning games. We're winning championships," Cowher recounted. "'What do you mean? Isn't that what we're here to do?"

"Yeah," Cowher said, "but there's more to it than that."

"It's the whole body of work. It's you as a person, what kind of legacy you want to leave," he added. "I really think he understands that now."

Cowher coached Roethlisberger during the quarterback's first three seasons -- in Year 2, he became the youngest at the position to win a Super Bowl. Roethlisberger picked up another ring under Mike Tomlin after Cowher retired, only to put his stellar career in jeopardy.

Roethlisberger was not charged after a Georgia college student accused him of sexual assault, but commissioner Roger Goodell still suspended him for the first six games of the season, citing a "pattern of behavior" embarrassing to the NFL.

Roethlisberger has said Cowher was one of the people he turned to for advice as he tried to get his life back on track, and that the two are now closer than ever before.

"Just like with your children, sometimes when you say things to them: 'Yeah, right.' They have all the answers," Cowher said. "All of a sudden, the older they get: 'Maybe he's right about that.'

"I think Ben has had a chance to reflect a lot. I think he's a good person. While it's unfortunate, I think it may be an eye-opener to him, kind of a slap in the face."

Before the Georgia case, there were earlier incidents, too. Roethlisberger was badly injured in a motorcycle accident while riding without a helmet or a permit after his first Super Bowl victory in 2006. He also is being sued by a woman who says he raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino. Roethlisberger denies the accusation and was not charged. He has claimed counter-damages in a lawsuit.

Some people mature later than others, Cowher said, and he believes Roethlisberger is a late bloomer.

"There's no question as a player he's always been a great player," Cowher said. "But there's a lot more to this professionally than that. It's how you carry yourself off the field. I think he realizes that now. I really think you're going to see a different person."

Even without Roethlisberger to start the season, Cowher thinks his former team will be just fine because the coaches have time to prepare for the suspension, which could be reduced to four games.

"I know a lot of players on that team. They need to hear that they can't do something," Cowher said. "That always seems to be the impetus to say, 'OK, we'll show you."

Since Cowher retired after the 2006 season, the rest of the NFL has wondered whether he'll show he can coach again. His name seems to come up whenever there is an opening, and Cowher isn't going to quell that talk.

"I certainly will look into situations with open ears," he said.

For now, he's an analyst for CBS, which allows him to stay close to the game if he does choose to coach again -- or lets him fulfill his football cravings without returning to the field. At the network's NFL media day Tuesday, he said his new colleagues have become family, just like it was with the Steelers, and he'd only leave for an ideal situation.

"I'm not sitting there lobbying for any one team," Cowher said. "You know what? I always thought, you'll know. When the time comes, you'll know. Right now the season's starting, and my thoughts aren't on coaching. My thoughts are on trying to give great coverage."

The familiarity of football season offers comfort for Cowher, whose wife, Kaye, died of skin cancer a month ago. Cowher said he never considered taking time off.

"As all our family's doing right now, we're all kind of moving on with our lives. It's the way my wife would have wanted it," he said. "I'm just very thankful for everybody in America who reached out, sent e-mails, texts, the donations they've made to a couple of charities. It's been very heartfelt, very sincere. I couldn't be more grateful."