June 29, 1999
Bobby Bowden began preparing for his 24th football season at
Florida State this spring with all the enthusiasm and expectations he
brought with him nearly a quarter century ago. Perched at the pinnacle of
the college football world, Bowden remains as hungry and driven as any one
out there which is probably what has made him the most consistently
successful coach in the history of college football.
Bowden’s desire to get started this year should come as no surprise
though as the Seminoles are likely to open the season at, or near, the No.
1 ranking. The Seminoles came just short of another national championship
last year losing to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, but a host of returning
starters and some very talented newcomers improves the chances of FSU
extending some of college football’s most startling records. Consider the
fact that FSU has won 10 or more games for an NCAA record 12 consecutive
seasons. The Tribe also extended their college football record of 12
straight seasons finishing among the Associated Press’ Top Four with a
third place finish in both polls last year. And no team has been more
successful than Bowden’s in the bowls where the ‘Noles are 12-2 over the
last 14 years, including a historic streak of 11 straight wins.
Bobby Bowden is a man so closely tied with the phenomenal success of his
program that he, as much as Chief Osceola riding renegade, is Florida State
football. Gracious in both victory and defeat, Bowden is a man at peace
with himself and one with rock-solid character and firm coaching principles
that date back more than 40 years. It’s not enough that his coaching
numbers have reached legendary proportions. Bowden also gives Florida
State University a proud moral leader, a family man of the first order, a
caring disciplinarian, and a calming voice in the face of the turbulence
Perhaps the best tribute to the man is that he is not afraid to
change with the times adapting brilliantly to new ways of winning games, as
well as dealing with young student-athletes. From a sense of discipline
and control, to a bold switch to the Fast Break offense, Bowden proves
you’re only as old as you feel.
Like few coaches before him, Bowden has created something of a
monster that sits squarely on his shoulders. He has coached his Florida
State teams so very close to perfection that people have come to expect
just that – perfection. He has won 138 games over the last 13 seasons,
including monumental wins over just about every traditional power one could
In the fickle world of college sports some forget what it is all
about. Sure, Bobby Bowden is proud of his national championship and his
place among the all-time greats. But as Bowden well understands at this
stage of his career, there are things more important in life which is what
makes him our Bobby Bowden.
He has 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 as friends. He listens and he cares. He is a father figure in
the traditional sense.
One of Bowden’s greatest coaching achievements revolves around bowl
his team’s success in them. Bowden’s 16-5-1 record and .750 winning
percentage rank first all-time. Only Joe Paterno (19) has won more bowl
The list of coaches who have won more games than Bowden got even
shorter in 1993. Only four names remain ahead of his on the all-time
Division 1-A coaching list – Bryant, Stagg, Warner, Paterno. Indeed,
Florida State’s eighth head coach has inked his name on the list of legends
over 34 seasons at Samford, West Virginia and FSU.
When Bowden first arrived in Tallahassee in 1976, he described his
relationship with the school as “a marriage” and was determined to let “no
man put it asunder.” True to his word, he begins his 24th season at FSU
What Bobby Bowden means to Florida State University off the playing
field cannot be measured. Respect, sincerity, class, honesty, charisma,
charm and humor. Those are the words that describe and define this man
even better than wins, or coaching records.
As if his character isn’t enough, his coaching style draws admirers
nationwide. A wide open, gambling style makes Bowden teams a treat to
watch, a pleasure to play on and delight to cover. Reverses,
flea-flickers, laterals – you name it, here it comes.
By now it’s been well-chronicled how the Birmingham, Alabama,
native left the snow and ice of West Virginia to come to Florida State and
save the program. Three seasons after he walked on campus, he had taken
one of the worst football teams in the country to within one game of a
Bowden’s record at Florida State is 219-53-4. That includes a
116-16-2 record in Tallahassee and a 103-37-2 mark away from home. 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
(31-6 at Samford University in Birmingham between 1959 and 1962, and 42-26
at West Virginia from 1970 75), but what he has done at FSU is simply
phenomenal. 16 times in 23 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. This year, the Seminoles played in their 20th bowl game since
his arrival, including a string of 17 in a row and 13 “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
Over his 23-year career at Florida State, Bowden has made the
Seminoles a mainstay in the Associated Press polls. FSU has been ranked in
the Top 25 in each of the last 191 polls dating back to the second week of
the 1989 season. The Seminoles have been among the Top 10 for 73
consecutive polls and have spent 40 weeks at No. 1 since 1991.
Florida State is the only school to finish among the Associated
Press Top Four for 12 consecutive seasons. The Seminoles have finished 1st
once (1993), 2nd twice (1987, 92), 3rd three times (1988, 89, 97, 98), and
4th five times (1990, 91, 94, 95, 96).
No team in college football history can match the run.
Over the past seven years, the coach and his teams have adjusted to
life as a conference member with Florida State’s addition to the Atlantic
Coast Conference. Over seven seasons, FSU is 54-2 with seven ACC
championships and set the league record for consecutive victories. Bowden
picked up ACC Coach of the Year titles in 1993 and 1997.
Above all, Bowden’s coaching accomplishments, though, are his
credentials as a man. Friendly and outgoing, he is a devoted Christian and
family man. He loves people. He has become somewhat of a folk hero in the
south. A polished speaker, Bowden is constantly in demand. His off-season
travel schedule would exhaust anyone and every free Sunday morning will
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 reads countless books and articles on the subject.
And with all this he and Ann, who celebrated their 50th wedding
anniversay in April, have managed to raise five remarkable children, two of
whom are coaching in the college ranks this year with Tommy the new head
coach at Clemson and Jeff entering his third season on the FSU staff.