We lost another of the coaching greats this weekend when Bobby Bowden passed away at age 91. Bowden took Florida State from also ran to perennial national champion contender when he took over the beleaguered Seminole team in 1976. Florida State had a record of 4-29 in the three previous seasons.
It seems as many of the great coaches of the past had ties to the state of Alabama and Bowden was no different. Born and raised in Birmingham, he grew up listening to Alabama football on the radio. Bowden graduated from Woodlawn High School where he was an outstanding athlete and fulfilled a dream by signing to play quarterback for Alabama in 1948. After a year with the Tide, he returned to Birmingham to marry his high school sweetheart and enrolled at Howard College, known today as Samford University. He played football, baseball and ran track there. He was an All American quarterback his senior year.
Bowden started his coaching career as an assistant at Howard and South Georgia College. In 1959, he returned to Howard as head football coach. He befriended Coach Paul Bryant at Alabama and would often drive to Tuscaloosa to learn from Bryant and watch the Tide practice. Bryant would take some of his 3rd and 4th teamers who were not going to see playing time and recommend that they go to Howard and play for Bowden. Bowden used these former Bama players to bolster his team and in four seasons his Bulldogs went 31-6.
He left to become an assistant for Bill Peterson at Florida State in 1962. Peterson was throwing the ball more than most college teams and Bowden learned a more wide open style pro offensive attack. In 1965, he went to work as an assistant at West Virginia, and when head coach Jim Carlen left after the 1969 season, he became the Mountaineers head coach. He stayed there until taking the FSU job.
Known for wide open offense and being unpredictable, Bowden turned Florida State around immediately by being willing to "play anybody, anywhere." His team became a national power.
In 1987, Ray Perkins left Alabama for the NFL and Bowden, 57 at the time, flirted with his dream of coaching the Tide. He said after his bowl game victory over Indiana that it would take him about as long as "a snap of the fingers" to take the job at Alabama. He was the first candidate to interview with the search committee. But on Friday night, January 2nd, 1987, he abruptly changed his mind and announced he was staying with Florida State. He was believed to be the top candidate for the job, that eventually went to Georgia Tech's Bill Curry.
During 34 years as head coach he had only one losing season at FSU–his first, in 1976–and declined head coaching job offers from Auburn, LSU, the Atlanta Falcons as well as Alabama.
There will only be one Bobby Bowden He was always a class act, serving a dose of coaching honesty with folksy humor. He promote his faith and was always a big supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But most of all he did it his way. He will be missed.