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Coaches' wives make it work

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002

Janet Nee knows picking a Christmas tree can be a family event.

Unloading it - well, that's a whole different sort of battle.

But it's a battle that many coach's wives must deal with when their lives coincide with basketball season. Or baseball season. Or football season. Or whatever season that particular coach is involved in at the time.

Their husband's job carries immense time commitments, whether it be game preparation, recruiting or travel.

Birthdays sometimes have to wait a day. So do anniversaries, holidays or any other family event.

How do they cope?

A lot if understanding and a whole lot of ability to get things done on their own.

"In this life, you can't take anything for granted," said Janet Nee, wife of Duquesne basketball coach Danny Nee. "Because you aren't sure of the status of any holiday or birthday or anniversary. You just don't know because there is always something that has the capability of taking precedence over it, whether it be a game or a trip or a practice."

Or even the Christmas tree.

This Christmas, Janet Nee asked her husband to meet her to choose the family tree. The two selected a 7-foot evergreen. As she drove away with the tree strapped down to the roof of her car, she noticed her husband wasn't following her.

"I just assumed he would follow me home," she said. "So, there I was left with a 7-foot tree trying to get it off the top of my car. I got it off the car, in the house and in the stand all by myself."

Danny Nee didn't follow his wife home because she asked him specifically to help pick out the tree. She didn't say she needed him to get the tree set up. So that's why when Danny Nee stopped by the house later because he forgot something and his wife asked him, 'Hey, don't you want to come and see the tree?" He didn't really seemed that interested in it."

Danny Nee's mind was on his team.

"It is very hard to be a coach's wife, because as coaches we have to be focused and consumed on basketball," Danny Nee said. "If you don't have a strong wife who has her own identity, then it would be hard to keep the marriage going."

Danny Nee said he appreciates everything his wife has to do while he is involved in basketball.

"It takes a special woman to be a coach's wife," Danny Nee said.

They have to be, because during the season many of the so-called normal things get put aside. Not because the coaches don't care, they have to live their sport at times.


There are many things that coaches' wives do that go unnoticed, such as taking out the garbage, paying bills, washing clothes, shuttling kids to practices and doctors appointments or cutting the grass.

"When you are first married, you don't think about the consequences," said Janet Nee, a Churchill native. "Like my mother once told me, 'If you don't want to cut the grass for the rest of your life, then don't cut it once.' Because once you do, then you might as well be prepared to do it forever."

There are some things Janet Nee has done forever, it seems. She prepares a pre-game meal for her husband's home games. She also chooses his wardrobe.

"If I forget something as small as a belt, then he will ask me where the belt is," Janet Nee said. "I will tell him the belt is on the hook in the closet where the belts always are."

Kaye Cowher, wife of Steelers coach Bill Cowher, knows that many of the duties for the couple's three girls fall on her because Bill spends many late nights preparing for games and road trips which take him away for days at a time. One of the busiest days of the week for Bill Cowher is Tuesday, the day he and his staff prepare game plans for the upcoming opponent.

Nothing gets in the way of Tuesday strategy sessions, not even Christmas Day or New Year's Day. Kaye Cowher accepts the fact that on Tuesday's, family comes second.

Kim Howland, wife of Pitt basketball coach Ben Howland, said she can't remember spending Christmas without her husband. But ¯ he has missed a couple of Thanksgivings and has come home late on Easter from a trip.

"So, we just have the holiday on another day," she said. "The kids learn to understand that if dad can't be there on the day, then he will be there on another day, and we can celebrate then."

@subhead:Raising children with limited help

Coaches' wives serve as mother and father.

"Raising the kids a lot by myself was the hardest part," said Ingrid McClendon, wife of Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon for 21 years. "It is almost like you are a single parent in many respects, except for the fact that you have money."

When he can, Bill Cowher spends time with his girls - Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay. When he attends Meagan's basketball games for Fox Chapel on Fridays, many people stop to talk to him or ask for an autograph. Danny Nee does what he can to be with his children - daughter Nora and sons Patrick and Kevin.

McClendon spends time with children Schenell and Bo, especially during the off-season.

"Bill does not bring it home with him," said Kaye Cowher, who has been married to Bill Cowher since 1983 and attends every home Steelers game. "If the girls didn't know if the Steelers won or lost, then they would not be able to tell by his demeanor. He is good about that. He keeps things in perspective."

Two days after Kim Howland gave birth to son Adam, Ben Howland left for an away game. She was thankful her mother was there to help out. When Ben Howland can, he attends many of his son's Shady Side Academy basketball games or daughter Meredith's cheerleading competitions.

"I understand, and the kids do, too, that sometimes things have to wait," Kim Howland said. "It would be easy to make a big deal out of it and be mad. But that would just ruin my day. If I did that every time something like that happened, think how many of my days would be ruined.

"Basketball is our family. Coaching basketball is what he loves to do, and I want him to be able to do what he loves to do, because I love him. We get excited for a new season. We hover around the radio if we can't be at the game and listen for Ben. We can hear him stomp his feet or yell to his players. Basketball gets in your blood, and it becomes a part of you.

"Life would be very strange without basketball."

@subhead:For the love of the game

Most coaches would do what they do for little or no money because their sport is their passion.

"When your husband has a job he loves and is passionate about it, then that is the most important thing," Kaye Cowher said.

Most of the wives have a passion for sports, too. Ingrid McClendon loves watching any baseball game via their satellite dish. Kim Howland often will flip channels and watch any basetball game, even if Pitt isn't playing. Janet Nee wants to see the statistics sheet after every Duquesne game to offer her analysis.

"I have my opinion," Janet Nee said. "When we go to bed, he says he wants to let the loss go, but I still want to talk about it. Even when he says he doesn't want to talk about it, I know he can't really turn it off. Having lived with him for 18 years, I know that the button is never off. That button is on all the time during the season. But that's Danny. He loves what he does."


"The season is not just a couple weeks," Janet Nee said. "It is not the Christmas season or the changing of the seasons. People tell me they know about the seasons, but they don't really. I know about the season. The season I am referring to is the basketball season. It is never just Christmas or never just New Year's. It is always the season."

Any day together is precious because even when the season is done, coaches turn to the search for more players. In the summer, when there aren't any college basketball games, coaches spend weeks away from home sitting in gymnasiums watching high school players compete in AAU tournaments.

Kim Howland said there have been times when her husband was away for five straight weeks. That was the hardest time for her because he was gone for so long.

The summer is tough for Kaye Cowher, too. Football training camp falls in mid-July. Even though it is only in Latrobe, she rarely sees her husband during that time.

Ingrid McClendon has to deal with spring training prior to baseball's regular season.

"I wouldn't say it's a hard life," Ingrid McClendon said. "I guess since I have been doing it so long this is what I know. I have always been a baseball fan, and I know that Lloyd has done his best to make time for us."


One of the hardest things to deal with is the media.

"I know we are in the media, because of what my husband does for a living, but I don't think people buy newspapers to read people's impressions. They buy newspapers to read the facts," Janet Nee said. "It is so frustrating when they just put in their two cents, and they don't know the facts. That's unfair because they don't know the whole picture."

Kim Howland agreed that the outside world doesn't understand the complete circumstances of what is going on within a team. She said her husband is aware of what the media are saying about him, but he tries not to take anything personally. Ben Howland tends to keep his thoughts inside.

"I try and take the media coverage with a grain of salt," Kim Howland said. "I never allow myself to get upset, because they don't live my life. They don't live my husband's life or know exactly what goes on in his life."

Ingrid McClendon said Lloyd has developed a good relationship with the Pittsburgh media, and the media, in turn, have treated him fairly. Kaye Cowher, who reads three newspapers a day, realizes the amount of media coverage - local and national - of the Steelers will grow even more now that the playoffs are on the horizon.


Some things have to take a back seat to the basketball season. Thursday was Kim and Ben Howland's 21st wedding anniversary. They planned to go out to dinner with their children.

"Sometimes, I wonder why I got married in January," Kim Howland said. "Maybe a June wedding might have been better. There are times I ask Ben why he didn't tell me that we shouldn't have gotten married in January. He usually doesn't answer because he is thinking about basketball."

When Janet Nee reminds her husband of her February birthday, he says it isn't his fault her birthday was during the season.

"I think about how hard this lifestyle is," Janet Nee said. "But it is one where you want for nothing, but you give up so much. There is no tradeoff for the things you have to go through. He has his passion of basketball, and I have a passion for my family and the house. I wish just once that we could both leave our passions and step out of all this."

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