2nd all-time winningest major college coach
Bobby Bowden's place in the College Football Hall of Fame was probably assured some time ago, but in a remarkable gesture his place will be insured this December when he will join Joe Paterno in the rare role of inductees who will still be actively coaching. In fact, both will receive a double honor with the organization's very highest distinction when they join the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhour, John F. Kennedy and H. Norman Schwarzkopf as Gold Medal Recipients.
Bowden's résumé is startling and begins with the fact that no coach in major college football history has won more games. Bowden became the all-time winningest coach in 2003 and currently has 359 career wins. He is the winningest bowl coach by percentage and is just two shy of tying for the most bowl wins ever by a college coach. He is the only coach to lead his team to 14 straight seasons that ended with a ranking among the Associated Press top five. He's coached two national championship teams including the 1999 squad that was the first ever to go through a season from start to finish as the AP No. 1. So overwhelming has Bowden's influence been on college football and, in particular, at Florida State, that the field at Doak Campbell Stadium was named after him in 2004 and a national award given by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes also bears his name.
While the list of former players whom Bowden has coached reads like a who's who, it is important that his players have won as many awards for academic and community service accomplishments as feats on the field. Bowden has coached eight players who won NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships, 11 first or second team academic All-Americans, 42 academic All-ACC selections and two players, Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, who were named NFL Man of the Year. Bowden has also coached a pair of Heisman Trophy Winners, and two winners of the Thorpe, Butkus, Groza, O'Brien and Lombardi Trophies, in addition to three Johnny Unitas winners. A total of 25 Seminoles have earned first-team Associated Press All-American honors under Bowden and 145 of his FSU players have been drafted by the NFL.
Bowden's interest in the sport of football began while watching his neighborhood high school team practice just on the other side of his backyard fence in Birmingham, Alabama. His love and talent for the game grew from playing with friends on the same fields everyday and later practicing with high school teammates. His knowledge of the game grew as a quarterback at Samford and from watching and listening to the legendary Bear Bryant. His skill and creativity were honed on the coaching staffs at South Georgia College, FSU and West Virginia. But it has been his combination of leadership, vision, talent and magnetic personality that have flourished over 30 years at Florida State, raising the program from perhaps its lowest point to the national powerhouse it is today.
Bowden ranks second all-time in bowl victories (19) and third all-time in bowl winning percentage. The 2006 Orange Bowl marked the 24th straight season that the Seminoles reached a bowl game, and was the 15th consecutive "New Year's Day" bowl. FSU's bowl streak ranks second nationally only to Michigan while the streak of "New Year's Day" bowls leads the country. Bowden is the only coach in NCAA history to win 11 consecutive bowl games (1985-95) and the only coach ever with 14 consecutive bowl appearances (1982-95) without a loss (FSU tied Georgia 17-17 in the 1984 Citrus Bowl).
Bowden's remarkable career numbers are even more impressive considering the fact that he took over an FSU program in 1976 that had won just four games over the previous three seasons. He has remained at FSU despite offers from NFL teams and several other prestigious college football programs. Bowden's loyalty has meant the world to Florida State University and its athletics program. That was recognized by the school in 2004 with the dedication of a statue of him that sits in front of the Moore Athletic Center and with the official proclamation of Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium.
Bowden's record at Florida State is 286-75-4. The totals include a 150-22-2 record in Tallahassee, 33-9-1 record at neutral sites and 103-44-1 on an opponent's field. He has built those numbers against some of the nation's toughest schedules, earning respect for his team, attracting top players to his program and establishing his reputation as a competitor in the process.
Bowden achieved impressive numbers in his previous coaching stops, including a 31-6 record at his alma mater Samford University between 1959 and 1962, and a 42-26 mark at West Virginia from 1970-75. But what he has done at FSU is simply phenomenal. Eighteen times in 30 years, his Seminoles have won 10 or more games in a season. Florida State had been to just eight bowls in the 29 years before him. The 2006 Orange Bowl marked the Seminoles' 27th since his arrival and is the 20th "New Year's Day" trips. He is, by far, the winningest coach ever at Florida State as his win total is greater than the previous seven Seminole head coaches combined.
Florida State is the only school to finish among the (Associated Press) Top Five for 14 consecutive seasons. The Seminoles finished first twice (1993, 1999), second twice (1987, 92), third, four times (1988, 89, 97, 99), fourth, five times (1990, 91, 94, 95, 96) and fifth in 2000. No team in college football history can match the run.
Over the past 14 years, Florida State has played in the Atlantic Coast Conference. FSU is 101-11 since joining the league in 1992 and has claimed 12 ACC championships, including 2005 in the first-ever ACC Championship game. The Seminoles won 100 games faster than any team in conference history and also set the league record for consecutive victories. Bowden picked up ACC Coach of the Year titles in 1993 and 1997.
Part of the reason for Bowden's success in his long run at FSU is that the elements of the job that seem to turn into chores over the years for most coaches: recruiting, speaking engagements, public functions, and press responsibilities, come easily for Bowden.
"I feel great physically," said Bowden who will turn 77 in November. "I've always been a people person. I enjoy getting to know people, so the recruiting is still a lot of fun for me. I like going into a player's home and meeting his parents and family. I don't have any desire to slow down on all the elements outside of the actual game that some people find hard. I understand why it grinds away at some people, but it just doesn't on me. I guess I've always been able to put football in its place."
He has developed the most consistently successful program in the history of college football. FSU won more games in the decade of the 1990s than any other program. The win over Wake Forest on October 25, 2003 allowed him to become the all-time winningest major college coach.
"To be honest, it doesn't really feel like I should be there," said Bowden at the time of the feat. "It's not something that I sat down 40 years ago and said 'you know if I coached long enough and was successful maybe I could get there." That type of thought never entered my mind. I don't really think about it. Maybe when I'm done I'll look back on everything."
While Bowden has not spent much time looking back, most of the nation has spent time looking in at his program's extraordinary success. Just imagine a college basketball program advancing to the Final Four for 14 years in a row. FSU set an NCAA record with 14 straight Top Five finishes and the 2001 Orange Bowl was the Tribe's third straight national title game and fifth in eight years.
Like few other coaches before him, Bowden has created unreal expectations for his program. He has coached his Florida State teams so very close to perfection that for some, anything short of another national championship is a down year. The last time FSU did not finish the season ranked was following a 7-4-1 record in 1986. Over the 19 seasons since, Florida State has won 204 games and lost just 42 with one tie.
In the fickle world of "big-time" college sports some forget what it is all about. Sure, Bobby Bowden is proud of his two national championships, his place among the all-time greats, and a football program that is the model for the entire country. But he has always pointed to the fact that there are more important things in life. He makes time for charity and to give to his church. He has never passed an admiring child without a wink and a smile. He greets total strangers. He listens and he cares.
What Bobby Bowden means to Florida State University off the playing field cannot be measured. Respect, sincerity, class, honesty, charisma, charm and humor are just some of the words that describe and define this man better than wins, losses or coaching records.
It has been well chronicled how the Birmingham, Alabama native left snowy West Virginia to come to Florida State and save the program. Three seasons after he first walked across the campus, he had taken FSU to within one game of a national championship.
Rising above Bowden's coaching accomplishments, though, are his credentials as a man. Friendly and outgoing, he is a deeply religious man who believes strongly in the strength of the family. He loves people. His personality and charm are bigger than life and he has become somewhat of a folk hero. An engaging speaker, Bowden is constantly in demand and most free evenings will find him on the speaking circuit. His off-season travel schedule would exhaust anyone. Sunday morning will usually find him in the pulpit of a church somewhere in the south. Outside of football, Bowden has an intense interest in World War II history and he is a voracious reader on the subject. He traced his ancestry to parts of Germany and has visited the country several times.
Bowden was an outstanding football player at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham and went on to Alabama as a freshman quarterback, fulfilling a lifelong dream to play for the Crimson Tide. He lasted one semester in Tuscaloosa before high school sweetheart Ann Estock lured him back to Birmingham. They soon married and Bobby transferred to Howard College in Birmingham. The two celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in the same year (1999) that FSU won its second national championship and Bowden coached his only undefeated team, which was the first team ever to go wire-to-wire as the AP No. 1 in college football history.
Bowden served as an assistant football coach and head track coach at Howard College (now Samford) from 1954-55. He left his alma mater to serve as Athletics' Director and Head Coach at South Georgia Junior College from 1956-58. He returned to Samford as head coach from 1959-62. He joined the Florida State coaching staff under head coach Bill Peterson as wide receivers coach from 1963-65. During that time, he coached Seminole receiver T.K. Wetherell who is now president of FSU. Bowden moved on to West Virginia, serving as offensive coordinator from 1966-69 before taking over as the Mountaineers' head coach from 1970-1975. He was named FSU's head coach in January 1976.
Bowden's faith and family have always been most important to him. The nation can follow son Tommy's career as head coach at Clemson as well as Terry, who is a college football analyst for ABC. The Bowden's oldest son, Steve, co-wrote a book entitled "The Bowden Way" with his dad that hit the Wall Street Journal's best seller list. His youngest son, Jeff, has been on the FSU staff for 12 years and has served as the offensive coordinator for the last five seasons. His oldest daughter Robyn is married to Clemson assistant coach Jack Hines and his youngest daughter Ginger is an attorney.