Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden added yet another to
his long list of coaching records with a win over West Virginia in the 2005
Gator Bowl. The win gave Bowden a 19-8-1 record in a bowl game allowing him to
retake his position as college football’s most successful bowl coach in terms of
winning percentage. He trails the overall record of 20 career bowl wins held by
Penn State’s Joe Paterno by just one.
FSU’s Gator Bowl trip marked to the 23rd straight season that the Seminoles
reached a bowl game. It was the 14th consecutive “New Year’s Day” bowl game
dating back to the 1990 season when the 10-2 Seminoles played Penn State in the
inaugural Blockbuster Bowl in Ft. Lauderdale.
Bowden, who became major college football winningest coach during the 2003
season, is the only coach in NCAA history to win 11 consecutive bowl games
(1985-1995) 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 for 29 years 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 athletic
program. Part of that was recognized by the school this past season with the
dedication of a statue of Bobby Bowden that sits in front of the Moore Athletic
Center and with the official proclamation of the stadium as Bobby Bowden Field
at Doak S. Campbell Stadium.
Bowden’s record at Florida State is 278-70-4. The totals include a 145-21-2
record in Tallahassee, 32-8-1 record at neutral sites and 101-41-1 in an
opponent’s stadium. 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 1959-1962 and a 42-46
mark at West Virginia from 1970-75. But what he has done at FSU is simply
phenomenal. Eighteen times in 29 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 2005 Gator Bowl marked the Seminole’s 26th since his arrival, including
a string of 23 in a row and 19 “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, 1992), third four times (1988, 89, 97, and 98), 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 13 years, Florida State has played in the Atlantic Coast
Conference. Since joining the league, FSU is 102-10 and has claimed 11 ACC
championships and 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 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 turned 75 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 25th of 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. Even more
startling is the thought of playing in the national title game five times in
eight seasons. 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
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 18 seasons, Florida State has won 196 games and lost just 37
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 walked past 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 a few 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 to save the program. Three seasons after he
first walked across the campus, he had taken FSU to within one game of a
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 of 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 is also one of
only two teams ever to go wire-to-wire as the AP No. 1 in college football
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 Athletic
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. Wetherall who is
now president at FSU. Bowden moved on to West Virginia, serving as offensive
coordinator from 1966-69 before taking over as the Mountaineer’s head coach from
1970-75. He was named FSU’s head coach in 1976.
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