How I will remember Bobby Bowden


When I heard the news that Bobby Bowden was expected to retire today, I went through a range of emotion.

 My first reaction was to be mad. I had been told over a week ago that not-so-subtle pressure would be put upon him to step down.

Yes, he would be given the option of returning, but in what could only be described as a figurehead role. In short, he would not retain the right to control the staff and the important things that go into being a head coach. The position would be ceremonial. I know the man well enough to believe that he could not be happy with that.

After building the Florida State program into a national powerhouse over 34 years—which included an unprecedented streak of 14 straight years with Top Five finishes—I believed strongly that he had earned the right to dictate the date and the manner of his retirement. This is not the way to treat a legend.

Then I got sad, as I usually do when one of the great ones has to walk away from the game. I will freely admit that I like and respect Bobby Bowden. He’s been good to me in my career. I love college football and recognize that the sport we all enjoy today was built by men like Bobby Bowden.

Florida State’s football stadium looked like a giant erector set when he became coach in 1976. There was little football tradition and the facilities were a joke. Now Doak Campbell Stadium is a palace and Florida State’s athletic complex is more than impressive. Yeah, Florida State did a lot for Bobby Bowden. But he gave a helluva lot more than he got back.

Then I was glad. I have been fortunate to cover some of the greatest coaches in the history of this game: Bryant, Dooley, Spurrier, Dye, Holtz, and now Bowden, just to name a few. They all have their time and, inevitably, that time comes to a close. No one coaches forever or plays forever. None of us gets to do what we do forever so we should enjoy the moments that we do have and in the sport of college football, Bobby Bowden gave us a lot of those moments.

So it appears that Bobby Bowden, who just turned 80 years old in November, is set to walk off the stage a year before he is ready. He won 388 games, which is second in Division I-A only to Joe Paterno. He wanted to retire as college football’s all-time winner. I know he said he didn’t stay awake thinking about it. But the man is competitive. Very competitive. He wanted that record. His players and family wanted it for him even more.

We are still waiting to see if the NCAA is going to strip him of 14 victories as penalty for an academic scandal that he addressed when it was discovered. I said this long before now but that should not happen.

There are so many games and so many stories I will remember when I think of Bobby Bowden. But this story will always be at the top of my list:

On Friday, Sept. 10, 2004 Florida State played at Miami in a game that had been postponed due to Hurricane Frances. The day before Bowden had attended the funeral of his grandson, Bowden Madden, who had been killed in automobile accident related to the Hurricane.

Florida State lost the game, 16-10 in overtime. Those of us who talked to Bowden that night knew how much he was hurting. All of us had a job to do but when you’re talking to a man who just lost a grandson named after him, a football game just doesn’t seem very important. But as always, Bowden answered our questions, even the personal ones about his pain.

When Bowden turned to leave for what was going to be a difficult trip back to Tallahassee, he took off his Florida State cap. He signed his name underneath the bill of the cap and then threw it to Joe Henderson, the fine columnist from the Tampa Tribune.

“Hey, Joe,” Bowden said. “Give that to your grandson.” Then he walked away.

That is how I am going to remember Bobby Bowden.


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282 comments Add your comment

Nice job, TB

December 1st, 2009
10:23 pm

Jeff, you realize Tony’s a Georgia grad, right? TB, you’re wrong, Dawg nation saved the season, as much as possible, by beating Tech. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to stomp Clemson in a bowl game after the two of you play for the Average Collegiate Conference championship in Tampa in front of another rousing crowd of 30-40 thousand or so.

Nice job, TB

December 1st, 2009
10:29 pm

Sorry, hit the ‘enter’ key while I was watching the replay of Washaun running over Tech, again. As I was saying, it will be sweet, after Tech beats Clemson College of Cow Tipping, to hopefully play the orange hoard in a bowl game, so the ‘middle of the pack’ SEC team can beat the first and second place teams of the aforementioned ACC.


December 1st, 2009
10:31 pm

Look for Bobby to take a HC job with the University of Alabama …

… in Birmingham.

Mmmm… Hamburger Heaven! Dadgummit, that’s GOOD eatin’ ;-)


December 1st, 2009
10:37 pm

The hardest thing in sports seems to be walking away at the right time. Bobby recruited kids who came from the toughest streets in Florida. And he told those kids families that he would treat those kids like they were his own. In life that means you give your kids several chances. If you look at the kids who went through that program that were truly special kids, Ward, Dunn, Brooks, and ehat they have accomplished, amazing. It is what his players have to say about him that matters and nothing else. Read those remarks.

Whopper Dawg

December 1st, 2009
10:44 pm

I am from Moultrie, Ga which is a little north of Tallahassee. FSU was absolutely nothing when Bowden came. What I remember is how he built it. He would go anywhere to play anybody. Started playing them in their house only, no one big would give him home and home. Started playing them close, and then started beating them, and then started getting home and home. He never dodged Miami (like Florida still does), never dodged Florida. One of the all time greats, not only for what he did, but how he did it – always with class, always with excellence.

It is a shame that the FSU administration handled this the way they did. If he wanted another year, he should gotten it. If it wasn’t for Coach Bowden, a change in FSU head coach position would not even warrant coverage.


December 1st, 2009
11:12 pm

Mr. Barnhart,

I agree with your sentiments on the great Bobby Bowden and am also mad and sad at the way FSU chose to end his career there by forcing him out in effect. I would love to have seen him out-live, and out-win, Joe Paterno. But, I could not resist poking some fun at your 5 predictions of last Wednesday, Nov. 25th:

One out of five predictions in less than a week’s time must be embarrassing.

1. Ga. Tech and Ga. must have traded jerseys for Saturday’s game because they both played like the other looked all season.

2. Do you still think Bobby Bowden will be coaching FSU next year?

3. The Oklahoma Stoops will not Stoop to Notre Dame, but the Arizona Stoops might. If Notre Dame will provide a walker, do you think Bobby Bowden might consider it?

4. At least Colt McCoy covered one of your predictions. Perhaps you should have waited a week before making the others.

5. The jury’s still out, but my guess is Urban or Saban. Flip a coin. Sounds like it’s got as much a chance at being right as your predictions. Better get a new crystal ball… and a new hammer for Paul Johnson for beating off Dawgs next year.


December 1st, 2009
11:58 pm

Tony – must be tough doing your job when “know it all’s” such as DALTON LEGAL EAGLE have it all figured out.

DLE – if you are an attorney, I’m glad I’m not one of your clients. Urban or Saban to ND? To you even read? Anything?


December 1st, 2009
11:58 pm

Thanks for your thoughts Mr. Barnhart.


December 2nd, 2009
12:01 am

The more I think about it, the worse I feel for Bobby Bowden. Hated the guy for years – thought he was full of it half the time. But he sure deserved a lot better than what TK Weathernuts did to him.

I predict TK is out on his backside within 3 years.


December 2nd, 2009
12:07 am

Gator haters: stop talking. Urban did the right thing today and you have nowhere to go in your criticism.

No “Kiffie” excuses to keep a starter on the field at any cost (Janzen). Just disappointment, discipline, and concern for his family.

Hopefully they can quickly move past this, and focus on what they can control in Atlanta. I think they will. It’s what Champions do.


December 2nd, 2009
2:00 am

One thing about being on the third page is no one ever reads what is written there.

Coach was always a classy coach, he had a style and tried to produce men who were ready to face the world. He attempted to teach values, and how to act like a winner regardless of what happened on the football field.
As a human being he is a great husband, father, grandfather, and human being. That is what makes this so hard for Florida State. His control over his program might not have been the best it could be, but he was always a person who represented the School, Administration, and State with class and dignity. Think about this for a moment. Coaches Myers, Saban, Johnson, Spurrier, and especially the jerk at UT all seem to be very good coaches, maybe even great, but none of them will ever hear the adjectives classy or dignified attached to their name.

Bobby we will miss you, and we will remember the good things about you, your family, and your teams long after we forget what your record was the last few years. May GOD Bless you and your family now and in the future.

The End of an Era | Football Picks

December 2nd, 2009
7:02 am

[...] Tony Barnhart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: There are so many games and so many stories he will remember when he thinks of Bowden. But one story will always be at the top of his list. [...]

Rick White

December 2nd, 2009
8:02 am

Thank You Coach Bowden for the wonder years. You worked hard to accomplish the FSU goals. I remember the 4 wins in 3 years and no matter what or record was at the end of the season I gave thanks that we did not have to look at those years of back to back to back losses. Heck we couldn’t even beat Memphis State in Tallahassee. You made Seminoles proud to follow their team and the spirit infused into the program will go on. FSU will rebuild and become again. You are a CHAMPION/ The Super Chief / and for one I am sorry to see any shred of negatism surrounding your departure. You in my mind had every right for one more year. I attended FSU in the early 70’s. It is not the same, thanks to you.
God Bless You / Your Family / and go out and enjoy your retirement!

Gator McKluskey

December 2nd, 2009
8:29 am

Dad-Gummit Bobby…I hate that my former team forced you out…maybe you can get a small role in a film…that’s all I can get now…Dad-gummit..!!!!


December 2nd, 2009
8:43 am

Yeah, I might have O&B glasses but I remember Bowden in 1994 (before OT came to college football) whose team was down 31-3 going into the 4th quarter against the Gators. His Offense had their way with the Gator D and scored 21 unanswered points to make it 31-24. With about 30 seconds on the clock, they score again. It is now 31-30. What does Bobby do? Go for the jugular against a D that has not stopped them all quarter and go for 2? NO, he kids the PAT and gets a tie.

A decade or so before that, Michigan was in the same position. They went for 2 and lost. At the post game presser, Bo simply stated “Michigan does not play for and is not satisfied with a tie.” FSU and Bobby Bowden seem to be satisfied with a Tie.


December 2nd, 2009
8:53 am

I am mad and I will not relent. The problem is that those who are now forcing Bowden out have no idea of what it was like before he arrived. Oh, there were a few bright moments namely the Gator Bowl win over Oklahoma back in the mid-sixties featuring Fred Biletnikoff and then the Gator Bowl tie with Penn State featuring Ron Sellars in the late sixties. Other than this FSU football was bad, I mean really bad.

I am a native Georgian but I grew up in Tallahassee as a result of my father’s work. One of my best friends was a guy named Paul Hughey. His father was the color commentator on radio for FSU football. Harry Hughey’s claim to fame was the fact that he was the first quarterback of Florida State when football was instituted after the school became co-ed back in the late forties. With Harry at the helm in a game of going-nowhere teams FSU was victorious over Louisville whose quarterback was Johnny Unitas. But it was down-hill from there.

I distinctly remember attending several games with Paul and Harry. And one might think that Paul and I had a free ride. Not so, but almost. You see, Doak Campbell Stadium was nothing more than an over-sized twisted steel high school stadium with a capacity in the low forties. But FSU could not come close to filling the place and as a result “General Admission” were offered for the not-so-big games like Virginia Tech and Houston and South Carolina, etc. And what was the admission price? One dollar. Yes, that’s right, $1.00. One, decimal point and two zeroes dollar. For crying out loud, my high school games were $1.50!

Have you taken a look lately at Doak S. Campbell Stadium? No resemblance. And who is responsible? Bobby Bowden.

Now those who were in diapers at the time or perhaps only a glimmer in their father’s eyes want to force Bobby out on their terms. This is nothing less than a shameful act. Could you imagine this happening to Bear Bryant? Oh, and I almost forgot, you do remember Alabama courting Bowden for the head coaching vacancy. Perhaps Bobbby should have taken them up on it.

I do have an opinion about what has happened to FSU football but that is another story for another day. Today is the day to be mad. Today is a story about imbeciles with no class.


December 2nd, 2009
9:10 am

good post, dawggone

Big Fart Alligator

December 2nd, 2009
11:27 am

Big Fat Alligator – Might want to look at Bobby’s career record against your beloved Gators. He is the won who did the whipping! I bet you have been a Gator fan for what 4 maybe 5 years?

Big Fart Alligator

December 2nd, 2009
11:28 am

Big Fat Alligator – Might want to look at Bobby’s career record against your beloved Gators. He is the won one did the whipping! I bet you have been a Gator fan for what 4 maybe 5 years?

Big Fart Alligator

December 2nd, 2009
11:28 am

Big Fat Alligator – Might want to look at Bobby’s career record against your beloved Gators. He is the one who did the whipping! I bet you have been a Gator fan for what 4 maybe 5 years?

Unmount Warhorse

December 2nd, 2009
12:05 pm

What do you mean, “long after he was enrolled” Deion Sanders (note the spelling) played? Deion skipped his finals. THere was no rule against it. Grades were not reported before the bowls at that time and he was still academically eligible. FSU created a rule to keep it from happening again, not the government. NOte that Rix was not allowed to play in the 2002 (technically 03) Sugar Bowl because of this internal rule, insuring FSU’s lose to UGA.


December 2nd, 2009
1:22 pm

Umm Big Fart Alligator – Bowden has a career losing record against UF.


December 2nd, 2009
3:10 pm

I think that the Administrators at FSU should be booted, the President of the University, the Athletic Director, President of the Boosters and the Chairman or the Board of Trusties. They have shown no loyalty to the most loyal Seminole ever. This was handled all wrong and it’s shameful! Bobby created FSU’s Athletic Program and with that program, came a better university and a strong Booster Club. Look around the campus, you’ll see lots of things that are there because of Bobby. To fire him after his loyal 34 year career is just shameful. If this was looked at simply as a business decision then as am Alum, Booster and Season Ticket Holder I will make a business decision now and keep my money and donations, FSU and their Boosters don’t deserve my hard earned cash and I sure can use it these days! You will be missed Coach Bowden, Thank You for the memories!


December 2nd, 2009
7:07 pm

Bowden has a losing record against UF only because he stayed about 5-6 years too long. He was 17-12-1 before the current slide and 8-5-1 against the Evil “Genius”. Bobby got the better of UF when both were on top at the same time. Unfortunately he pulled a Willie Mays and didn’t know when it was time to hang it up. Losing to Ron Zook in ‘04 should have been the first sign that the game had passed him by.

It’s sad, really. Bowden’s demise as a coach is a reminder of our mortality. Father Time wins in the end no matter how stubbornly we try to deny that reality.


December 2nd, 2009
7:14 pm

To those who insist that FSU didn’t show enough loyalty to Bowden, I would suggest that they have it backwards: Bowden didn’t show enough loyalty to FSU. It’s not like it was an entirely one-sided relationship. Remember, Bowden had a good coaching job (W. Va.) and left it to take the FSU job, so it’s not like it was an unattractive job in the mid 70s. FSU was a school that won some in the 60s, was in a warm, sunny location, and in a hotbed of high school talent. FSU also made Bowden a very rich man doing the only job he knew how to do. Along the way, they deified him.

Is it disloyal to allow a coach an entire decade to retire on his own terms? Bowden turned 70 back in ‘99 for crying out loud. How long should FSU have waited to move on and try to rebuild its declining football program? One more year? Five more years? Until Bowden passed away?

I don’t envy the FSU hierarchy, but I blame Bowden for forcing them to make a hard choice such as this. Bowden had more than enough time to leave on his own terms – he simply refused to take the opportunity. I don’t see how that’s FSU’s fault.

[...] a.m. – ESPN: PSU avoided Bowden mess with JoePaUpdate – 8:49 a.m. – Atlanta Constitution Journal: How I will remember Bobby BowdenUpdate – 8:42 a.m. – National media starting to pick up Bowden story, Baltimore Sun and Wall Street [...]


December 3rd, 2009
3:08 pm

Tony, you’re absolutely right. Coach Bowden made that program. He earned the right to say when and how. Shameful how they treated him. One bad season does not define a career or a program. FSU definitely lost my respect the day they made the announcement.


December 3rd, 2009
3:33 pm

In his younger days Bobby had 6 kids at home. On Saturdays he would put on his work clothes and tell Ann he had work to do. He would then drive to a gas station and put on his golf clothes and head to the course for a round with his buddies. Ann didn’t find out about this until many years later at a roast. Sounds like my kind of guy.


December 9th, 2009
4:42 pm

Thank you for your comments. I’ll remember several things about Coach Bowden:

(1) The story that was told about him in the movie about Marshall football; I assume it was based on fact. In it, he appeared as a very gracious man; which, from all reports is consistent with reality.

(2) I’ll remember him for his son Tommy; who, although he has not been given adequate credit, resurrected Clemson football from its sorry state before he took that role.

Paul Bramlett

January 1st, 2010
2:53 pm

What A true christan and the greatest college football coach there will ever be.FSU football will never be the same with Bobby gone.I would say “God bless you Bobby Bowden”but it looks like he has already taken care of that.You are so blessed and will be missed by every true seminole fan.


January 3rd, 2010
9:42 pm

For everyone that thinks Bobby Bowden is some hero, just remember he’s not. He wasn’t a good coach, just a winning coach. He let his players, that were any good, get away with anything. He had absolutely no respect for the game. Also don’t forget he was FIRED from West Virginia, and if he didn’t “retire” he would’ve been FIRED from Florida State as well. He was a good man while coaching at West Virginia, maybe if they hadn’t canned him he would still be a good man today. Yes before any rude comments are mad about this comment I am in fact a West Virginia fan, but not an angry one