January 1, 1999
By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) – To hear him tell it, the head of college football’s
first family of coaching has no idea how the rest of them got there.
Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, the 69-year-old patriarch of the clan,
good a storyteller as he is a coach. But while he kept an audience enthralled
for the better part of an hour Thursday, the one story he had a hard time
telling was how three of his four sons wound up in the same business.
“Tommy was supposed to … and Terry I didn’t know about until he got
… and with Jeff, I thought he was going into law enforcement.
“I really didn’t want them competing with me or each other,” Bowden said
shortly before putting his team through its paces in preparation for Monday’s
game against Tennessee that will determine the national champion. “I did not
encourage them, I’ll tell you that much. If anything, I tried to discourage
That disclaimer aside, seeing his sons chase him down the career path
be the mystery Bowden makes it out to be. For almost four decades, football
topic No. 1 at the dinner table. His sons have a hard time remembering what
2 was, since even Bowden’s two daughters chose football players for husbands
(one of whom, Jack Hines, is a coach).
“I guess that makes Steve the smart one,” said Jeff Bowden, 39, who
his father’s staff full time as receivers coach in 1994. “He got the football
bug out of his system in college.”
For the record, Steve, the oldest son at 46, is a financial planner.
him is 44-year-old Tommy, who led Tulane to an unbeaten season before leaving
to take the head coaching position at Clemson. Next is 42-year-old Terry, who
walked away from the same job at Auburn in midseason after running afoul of
some influential boosters and athletic department officials.
“Tommy can’t be here because he’s got work to do. Terry is here
doesn’t,” Bowden quipped. “So if any of you know of any good jobs that are
The old man can laugh about it now. But he admitted Terry’s firing
up memories of the ugly side of the profession – poor job security, a
gypsy-like existence, the constant politicking – that he’d hoped his sons
“It’s the nature of the job,” Bowden said. “Even if you go into life
insurance, you have to sell, I suppose, or get out. … Competition is part of
Knowing that, unfortunately, didn’t make it easier for Julia Bowden to
While her husband was building football programs, first at West Virginia and
then at Florida State, she found herself raising six kids, at times almost a
single parent. Then, the moment they were all out of the house and on their
feet, her husband and three of her sons wound up in the Southeastern
Conference, competing against each other.
Talk about divided loyalties.
“Mother,” Jeff Bowden said with a knowing smile, “always cheers for the
son that has the most to lose.”
Next season, that will be Tommy. Unless, of course, Jeff decides to
from under dad’s wing, or Terry lands a coaching job back in the SEC, an
unlikely occurrence at the moment.
“I was raised under the rule of thumb that you don’t go into coaching
unless you can’t live without it,” said Terry Bowden, who is mulling over a TV
job for the short term future. “Maybe this year, I’ll see if I can live
But Terry’s untimely exit at Auburn was hardly the first – or only – time
Bowden’s sons learned the toll coaching extracts. In 1974, near the end of his
tenure at West Virginia, Bowden’s team went 4-7 and Terry walked by the campus
student union one day to see his father being hung in effigy.
“We couldn’t grow up blind to that stuff. We read the papers, saw the
hanging from a tree,” Jeff said. “Sometimes, when you’d sit in the stands,
you’d hear things, nasty things, because people had no idea he was our dad.
“But our careers were left up to us. If he educated us about anything, it
was to have a thick skin. And not,” he added, “to have rabbit ears.”
Jeff might have added a sturdy constitution to that list. When Bowden
equally long-suffering Nebraska coach Tom Osborne at the Orange Bowl for the
national title five years ago, no one would have begrudged him the chance to
coast, at least for a little while. Instead, he turned up the next morning for
a scheduled recruiting visit on Lamont Green’s doorstep. The senior linebacker
from Miami remembers it to this day.
“I watched the game that night, and after the news conferences and
probably didn’t leave the stadium until at least 1 (a.m.). And at 7 sharp, he
was knocking on my door,” Green said. “Man, that really made an impression on
Bowden has hardly slowed down since.
“If I was 40 years of age, I’m sure I’d be saying I’d be ready to go
But 65 slipped past in a hurry,” Bowden said. “I have no desire to pull weeds
in the yard. That’s what my wife wants me to do. I figure I might as well die
out there on the field as go while I’m pulling weeds.”
Besides, there’s still the annual family golf outing to prepare for.
who thinks the Bowdens are fierce competitors on the football field hasn’t
them on the links together.
“We call it the Tindle Swindle, because that’s the name of the Air Force
base where the golf course is at,” Jeff explained, “and anything goes.
“The only rule is this: Never turn your back on the other team.”