Oct. 12, 2003
By Burt Reynolds
Most great coaches were not only neat teachers, they not only won much more than they lost, but their players, almost to the man, had the utmost respect and affection for them. What the players got in return was tough love and a tenacious work ethic. This is what molds tradition.
Florida State has had wonderful character building, winning, and Lord knows, colorful coaches over the years from Don Veller, who won 30 out of his first 34 games. One of college football’s most amazing transformations, Coach Veller took over a team that couldn’t win anything and won damn near everything. Remarkably, FSU went 7-1 in 1948, even though it was August before Coach Veller moved to Tallahassee. Just two years later, Florida State would go unbeaten. Not bad for a coach who that year was studying every night for his doctorate!
Tom Nugent was the most colorful, flamboyant man I ever met. I’ve met some unforgettable people in show business but none could top Coach Nugent’s charisma and inventive mind. He invented the typewriter huddle (which every team in America uses). He invented the wide-out receiver, as we know it today. Red Blake at Army invented the lonesome end, but Coach Nugent refined it and made it work in any formation. He invented the “I” formation. Yes, the one that everyone is so familiar with today! I was lucky enough to play for this amazing coach.
Coach Bill Peterson was the personification of colorful. We have all heard Coach “Pete” stories. His malapropisms, such as, “The rolling pin gathers no moss,” “Don’t kill the goose that lays the deviled egg,” “That was the cliff dweller to end all cliff dwellers!” and my favorite, just before one of the biggest games of his career, he said in the locker room, “Men, I want to say a prayer; now I lay me down to sleep…” This man also had fantastic coaching ability! His assistant coaches went on to become famous head coaches, his wondrous ways with the passing game, and of course Biletnikoff and Sellers who were two of FSU’s most memorable receivers. In Coach Pete’s last five years as head coach, FSU threw the football better, more consistently, and more effectively than any team in the United States.
Now I’ve come to Bobby Bowden… a man of honor, humility and a man of faith. He’s the big brother I never had. He’s the guiding hand through high highs and low lows for every young man who played for him. He taught them how to win and lose with class. His era is the War Chant, the rearing Appaloosa and a pass and running game the likes of which no one in the country had ever seen. There are tomahawks on the helmets, a Seminole profile on the pants and garnet and gold so beautiful it’s irresistible. There are bowl games every year, so much that fans not only expect them but also make their plans in advance for January. No more “gimme” games. All are battles to be won or lost right down to the last second.
Lifestyles have changed. Ball players, like the society around them, have changed, and Coach Bowden changed with them. He had to if he was to remain what is to us all, eternally energetic and passionate about his role as a teacher and coach. Bobby never disappoints. No matter how much I build him up to someone who is about to meet him for the first time, they all come away forever, if not Seminole fans, Bobby Bowden fans.
Last, but not least, is his sense of humor. No one and I mean no one can work a room like Coach Bowden. His timing would make any professional comic drool with envy. It’s true in show business — you never wanted to follow Sammy Davis or Frank Sinatra. I knew them both very well, and they would have known in a second, I don’t follow that man! Yet, it seems there are a few who are still waiting for the other shoe to drop. He is “too good to be true.”
FSU is a young university, but it’s time for our growing pains to be over. All of us who get a lump in our throat when we hear our fight song have many, many more reasons to be proud than whatever feelings others want to impose on us. The coaches, the players, the band, and the fans of his great university never have to take a back seat to anyone. We felt undeserving at one time. Now it’s time to enjoy what the people who have gone before us have done, and it’s a never-ending chain of astonishing accomplishment!