Bobby Bowden Retires

bobby_bowdenLegendary football coach Bobby Bowden has made it official: He’s stepping down after 35 years heading the Florida State program and 44 years as a college head coach.

Bowden will retire as the second-winningest coach in major college football behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno. The 80-year-old Bowden has won 388 games in his career at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State, where he spent the last 34 seasons.

“Nothing lasts forever, does it? But I’ve had some wonderful years here at Florida State, you know it,” Bowden said in a satellite feed interview provided by the school. “Hadn’t done as good lately as I wish I could have, but I’ve had wonderful years, no regrets.”

Bowden won two national titles with Florida State, in 1993 and 1999. Among his top achievements was a string of 14 straight seasons, ending in 2000, where the Seminoles won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five of the AP poll.

Florida State was 152-19-1, an .864 winning percentage, during that span.

“He set records of achievement on the field that will probably never be equaled,” university president T.K. Wetherell said. “Bobby Bowden in many ways became the face of Florida State. It was his sterling personality and character that personified this university.”

Bowden was always a class act and, like Paterno,  seemed to genuinely care about molding the young men in his charge to be better citizens, not just better football players.

There have been, it must be said, some NCAA violations over the years, including some recent sanctions. But, alas, that seems to be the way of Big Time College Football.   Between overzealous boosters and all manner of university employees who go out of their way to make things a little easier for star athletes, it’s almost impossible not to run afoul of the rules.

This says all you need to know about Bowden:

During Bowden’s first year as head coach at West Virginia University, the tragic plane crash of the Marshall University football team occurred. Bowden asked NCAA permission to wear Marshall jerseys and play Marshall’s final game of the 1970 season against Ohio, but was denied. In memory of the victims of the crash, Mountaineers players put green crosses and the initials “MU” on their helmets. Bowden allowed Marshall’s new head coach Jack Lengyel and his assistants access to game film and playbooks to acquaint themselves with the veer offense, a variation of the option offense which aids teams with weak offensive lines. Lengyel credits Bowden with helping the Young Thundering Herd recover.

Bowden, a Birmingham native, played quarterback at the University of Alabama from 1946-1948 before transferring to Howard College (now Samford University) and marrying his high school sweetheart, to who he’s still married six decades later.

He almost got the chance at his dream job, coaching the Crimson Tide.  After Bear Bryant’s retirement, the University lured Ray Perkins, a former player and head coach of the New York Giants, to replace him.   When Perkins resigned to take the Tampa Bay Bucs job in 1986,  Bowden was interviewed but the Tide hired Georgia Tech’s Bill Curry, reasoning that the 57-year-old Bowden’s best days were behind him.  Bowden, of course, went on to win two national championships and Curry, well, not so much.  (Curry’s an excellent coach and teacher but he never clicked at Alabama, eventually leaving to take the Kentucky job.)   The Tide went on to win a title under Gene Stallings in 1992 but it would have been interesting to see what Bowden would have done with that Alabama tradition behind him in recruiting.

UPDATE: Another Bowden anecdote, this from Alabama coach Nick Saban:

Saban told a story about how when he was a graduate assistant coach at Kent State, his alma mater, 35 years ago, his father died in West Virginia.

“My mother was struggling a little bit,” Saban said. “Coach Bowden was the head coach at West Virginia. I don’t know him from Adam’s house cat. He calls me on the phone and says, ‘I knew your Dad. Sorry he passed away. Sorry your mom’s struggling a little bit. Do you want to come to West Virginia and be a graduate assistant? I’ll have a spot for you if you want to do that so you can come home.’

“You know, how many people would do that? How many coaches would do that?”

Saban wound up staying at Kent State for three years as a grad assistant and another two as a defensive assistant, followed by a year at Syracuse.  He wound up at West Virginia for two years in 1978-1979, by which time Bowden had gone on to FSU.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Drew says:

    I am a strident critic of major college athletics. I do not believe that the vast majority of “student athletes” in the major sports deserve to be in college at all. These activities represent grossly misplaced priorities.

    That said, given the reality of what major college sports are, Bobby Bowden is a shining star. And he should be accorded commensurate respect.

  2. Woo! Paterno wins last man standing on the most career wins race!

  3. Franklin says:

    His records stand for themselves. That said, my opinion is that he didn’t do enough to prevent NCAA violations, which requires a very proactive approach. There is a reason they call it Free Shoes University. Go ahead and compare the number of scandals at FSU vs. Paterno’s program at Penn State, there’s just no contest.

  4. Houston says:

    To bring up “Free Shoes U” is pretty lame, considering it happened over 15 years ago. And I’m sure FSU comes out looking *much* better than Penn St in recent off-the-field incidents. It’s actually been a very quiet few years at FSU – except for the academic cheating scandal, which involved hundreds of students, only a few of whom were on the football team.

    Bowden says he wants to be remembered as a man who changed the lives of the boys he coached over the years – i think that is a standard well worth living up to, and he has more than succeeded. A shame it ends this way.

    And congrats to Paterno.

    (and disclaimer – FSU class of 85)(Go Noles)

  5. Franklin says:

    It’s actually been a very quiet few years at FSU – except for the academic cheating scandal

    Bwaa ha ha ha … you’re killing me here.