CBS makes room for Cowher to jaw with its huddle of NFL experts

ON MEDIA

February 16, 2007|By RAY FRAGER

CBS is putting it this way -- it already had former players and a general manager, now it has a coach.

The network announced yesterday it added former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher to The NFL Today cast. Cowher joins host James Brown as a new analyst with Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe. (The former general manager is Charley Casserly, who has his own segment rather than talking with the crew at the big desk.)

Cowher left the Steelers after the 2006 season, his 15th as their coach, and has moved to North Carolina to spend more time with his family. He has a daughter who is a high school sophomore, so Cowher takes on this new role with the idea of staying at least two years, he said.

However long Cowher is with CBS, he is bound to be followed by rumors about when and where his return to coaching will be.

"I didn't get out of [coaching] to get back into it," Cowher said in a conference call yesterday. "I understand all the speculation that will be out there."

Until he makes a move back to the sidelines, Cowher joins the ranks of professional second-guessers.

"As long as you do it in a very objective way ... it's not being judgmental, it's giving an opinion," he said.

And as a coach, "you know you're going to get second-guessed."

So, as Cowher brings that famous jaw line to The NFL Today set, he teams with three guys who helped make his life difficult as opponents. "The only person I haven't lost to is J.B.," he said.

Led by the effusive Sharpe, the program has become increasingly driven by the interplay among the analysts. Adding Cowher theoretically gives each of them a bit less time to talk, perhaps bringing down the volume and the yuk-it-up factor.

But for those who recall his emotional approach to coaching, here's something to consider: When Esiason, Marino or Sharpe makes a particularly salient point, will Cowher plant a big kiss on the side of his head?

Off to the races

With the beginning of the Nextel Cup season Sunday, a Waltrip is big news at the Daytona 500. But it's not Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip, it's his brother, driver Michael Waltrip, who has been docked 100 championship points before the year's first lap because his team used an illegal gasoline additive.

Darrell Waltrip was asked about the issue in a conference call earlier this week, before NASCAR announced the penalty.

"I asked [Michael] what the story is," Darrell Waltrip said, according to a partial transcript. "And I'll say this, when he said he didn't know anything about his engine, he wasn't lying. He knows diddly-squat about engines."

For Sunday's race (2 p.m., channels 45, 5), the network is introducing "Fox 3D," a computer-generated virtual replay device that can reproduce the action on the track using data from global positioning system units installed in every car.

Fox lead director Artie Kempner said: "The animated video-game look it features is very significant for younger viewers who are used to playing NASCAR 2007 or similar games."

Hairy hire

Fox figures seeing Eric Byrnes playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks just isn't enough. The network has engaged the outfielder for monthly behind-the-scenes features to run during its Saturday major league pre-game show. Byrnes also becomes a weekly regular on Fox SportsNet's Best Damn Sports Show Period for a segment called "Byrnes, Baby, Byrnes."

Byrnes, a one-time Oriole, has made quite an impression in his limited forays into broadcasting, presenting a free-spirited style of commentary and an unruly mop of blond hair.

Fox also announced the addition of three former major leaguers to its analyst stable along with Tim McCarver -- Mark Grace, Eric Karros and Joe Girardi. ... ESPN has put Dusty Baker, most recently manager of the Chicago Cubs, and ex-infielder Fernando Vina into its Baseball Tonight lineup.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

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