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

Edsak

December 1st, 2009
7:12 am

Everyone has their time…. First

Alabama Jack

December 1st, 2009
7:17 am

Excellent column, Mark, but I notice that Dodd was not mentioned in your great coaches. Had he retired when you came along?

warhorse

December 1st, 2009
7:20 am

Because we learn in the military that it is not right to shoot at a man in a lifeboat, I will maintain the tone set by Tony and not discuss how Bobby allowed Deon to play long after Prime Time no longer was enrolled as a student, causing the legislature to pass a special law so that such abuse of academics never again would happen.

Bobby is a delightful guy to see interviewed. He added a spark to football and continued a long line of classic characters from the South who excelled on the sidelines.

Dog Island Gator

December 1st, 2009
7:21 am

God bless and long live Bobby Bowen. Thank you for the memories.

War Jacket

December 1st, 2009
7:24 am

Dooley doesn’t belong in that list you homer. Certainly not before Spurrier.

sogadog

December 1st, 2009
7:26 am

Your headline: “Tech rolls over Georgia”. You need to adress this and why so many of your fellow reporters wrote Georgia off with such zeal. You cant judge a program based on one game or one season alone.

CowetaDawg

December 1st, 2009
7:26 am

You’re a good man Barnhart. Happy Holidays to you.

Rooferdawg

December 1st, 2009
7:26 am

I played golf with Bobby, Bill Lewis (old UGA and tech coach) and a friend. Bobby was a awesome person to know! We will miss him!

joe taxpayer

December 1st, 2009
7:29 am

CBB is paid on production not history. Fla. St. has been going down hill for 8 years he does not have some special right to drag that program down even if he built it up. Thanks for the memories, you are a special person and a Great coach. Everything has a season and its time for CBB to go.

Let's Go

December 1st, 2009
7:30 am

On game day I hated the man and his team but in the big picture of how great college football is he will always be at the top. The one thing I always liked about Bobby Bowden is that year in and year out he always scheduled tough out of conference teams to play. Look at this year, BYU & South Flordia to go along with Flordia. Pete Carroll and Bob Stoops do it too and because of that they are at the top of my list as great college coaches. Maybe Urban Meyer, Nick Sabin, & Mack Brown should try it and then let the chips fall where they may.

Maybe Flordia State will be better without him but I’d be willing to bet they will be looking for a new coach in 2 to 3 years. The fallout from the experiment of the “coach in waiting” will take years to fix.

?????

December 1st, 2009
7:30 am

Tony, how ’bout it bro???? “Tech rolls over Georgia”?

Big Fat Alligator

December 1st, 2009
7:37 am

As a Gator Fan I am espcially sad to see ol’ numb nutz go. It was lot’s of fun whipping up on old Bobby.

The real St. Simons

December 1st, 2009
7:38 am

((((((((((24-30))))))))))

wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!waaaaaaahhh!!waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

AUGirl

December 1st, 2009
7:40 am

I’m personally saddened by Bowden’s retirement but it’s time. His FSU rosters gave the Southeast some awesome rivalry felt games back in the day when FSU played SEC teams. With the passing of this torch, it leaves only Joe Paterno who is the last of that coaching era where coaches and fans were loyal to the team and the coach actually would “retire” after 25-plus years. Nowadays, it seems the only thing that matters is BCS and if the guy can’t bring it home the pinks are issued, or, coaches turn-coat and leave for another team who will pay more $$$$. Good luck to Bowden! He’ll be missed.

Forever a Nole

December 1st, 2009
7:40 am

Great column Mr. Barnhart. 14 years of finishing in the top five is the most amazing accomplishment to me. I also loved how he built the program; he would play anyone, anywhere. He will be missed.

Augustadog

December 1st, 2009
7:40 am

Good article Tony. Those of us who have been around a while appreciate what a man of Bobby’s stature has brought to the game. He is a fine Southern Gentleman and mentor to thousands of kids in his program. God Bless Bobby Bowden!

In Decatur

December 1st, 2009
7:43 am

If you’re going to include Holtz, then how about Hayes, Schembelchler and Osborn too.

TonyBFan

December 1st, 2009
7:45 am

I’m going to miss him Tony, he’s been great for the sport. However, no one is bigger than the game and he lost control down @ FSU. Too many indians wanting to be chief and no one to step up and put them in their place. He built an empire that was crumbling under his on ego. Amazing coach, sounds like he was also an amazingly loyal and generous man. Sometimes coaches need to check the loyalty though and remember that it is still a job. You listening Richt?

Truth

December 1st, 2009
7:52 am

Spurrier is the one coach on that list that never had any class!

kt

December 1st, 2009
7:53 am

Bobby Bowden, class act for sure.

Saint Simons

December 1st, 2009
7:54 am

30-24!!!!!!

Two overrated teams will play in the ACC Championship Game a.k.a. The Consolation Bowl

GT & Clemson (not even the best in their own state!) Ha – what a pathetic joke!!!!

Fladawg

December 1st, 2009
7:54 am

Tony,

Past performance never compensates for current victory. That is the way it is in every area of life. It is way past time to move on and coach Bowden, as great as he is, should have recognized this 5-7 years ago. He could have moved on with class instead, he will be bitter in many ways and forced the fans to question his character.

AUGirl

December 1st, 2009
7:54 am

Good point In Decatur! Michican and Nebraska were to the 80’s what Floria is to the 00’s. Those coaches were unbelievable and built programs where when those boys came out onto the field, other teams knew they were playing some corn-fed a$$-kickers!

kt

December 1st, 2009
7:56 am

I’m interested “lets go, what tough out of conference games does Bob Stoops schedule? Miami?? okay.

Forever a Nole

December 1st, 2009
7:56 am

Big fat Alligator,
It was “lot’s” of fun whipping up on ol’ Bobby? First of all, Florida State has definitely not been the team they were when they went 8-5-1 against your beloved Spurrier. Secondly, could you please learn how to use an apostrophe? Here is an example of an apostrophe used correctly: Steve Spurrier’s record was excellent at Florida except when he coached against Bobby Bowden.

Starring Henry Wilcoxon as the Bishop

December 1st, 2009
7:58 am

Despite the troubles the FSU program has had in recent years, there is NO doubt that Bobby Bowden has left the FSU program in MUCH BETTER shape then what he inherited. For those of you too young to remember, FSU won 4 games in 3 YEARS before BB arrived. Larry Smith ruined the program & Darrell Mudra was not much better. So, I hope the FSU administration is happy by running the man off. He should have coached 2010 & ridden off into the sunset.
WTG classy UGA fans, this is a Bobby Bowden column, not about UGA.

Jake

December 1st, 2009
8:03 am

I recall when Bobby was at WVU. He extended a hand to Marshall when their team was killed coming back from ECU, in Greenville NC. When went to Fla. State when FSU was a no-body football team. He raised the bar at FSU for college football and put them on the map. He understands what comes first in life. 1. his God, 2.Family 3. FSU in this order. He has helped many men in this country understand life. His time at FSU reminds me of the book Death of a Salesman. It happens every day in this country.

SimpleDawg

December 1st, 2009
8:04 am

It was time for Bobby to go, only he couldn’t see it….or didn’t want to admit it.

Hopefully his fate will not be the same as the Bear, who only lived another 28 days beyond his retirement.

Eric

December 1st, 2009
8:05 am

Good greif. He’s retiring, not dying! Get a hold of yourselves, Ladies!

the Girv

December 1st, 2009
8:09 am

As a Penn State fan I could not stand fsu. But I am dumb founded on how fsu could do this to the greatest coach in school history. I think ten years down the road they might look back and regret the way they handled this. Guys like Bowden,Paterno,Bryant,Holtz. They don’t come down the road to often,now a days the money will move any coach. But not these guys.Good luck to coach Bowden, I know that Joepa won’t be far behind. Then all the great ones will be gone.

volsngoblue

December 1st, 2009
8:10 am

Sad day. The sports truly goes mercenary when you dont respect the man that made you….

Saint Simons is my caddy.

December 1st, 2009
8:11 am

(((((((30-24)))))) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Gordon

December 1st, 2009
8:11 am

I don’t understand the idea that a coach “earns the right to leave on his own terms.” Bowden was a great coach, and was compensated handsomely for that. He got all of the perks and rewards that he earned by doing such a great job for so long. But in good times or bad, he was an employee of Florida State University and no more. The job belongs to FSU, not Bowden. Football coaches, like most people, don’t get tenure. If FSU decides to end the relationship, then they have that right and shouldn’t be criticized for it. FSU has been very gracious in how they have handled this.

Hugh Howard

December 1st, 2009
8:13 am

Tony
This is an excellent article. Some men have indeed earned the right to say when they go. I will never forget or forgive Adams for the way he treated Coach Dooley. When I started at UGA in 1966 the stadium held 36,000. I miss the older guys. Heck, I even miss that old Tech homer Bisher.

Ramguy

December 1st, 2009
8:15 am

Why are people worried about what coaches Barnhart listed? This about Bowden and how he brought an small time football program into the limelight. He did just that and he deserves credit for it. Personally I was glad to see two Southern programs (Fla St and Miami) actually beat the Big 8 teams in bowl games.I just hope UGA doesn’t play them in a bowl game this year. Those young men will play their hearts out for the old man so he can go out a winner.

Dave

December 1st, 2009
8:15 am

For those of us Seminoles who’ve been here since the beginning, this is truly a sad day. We know what Bobby has done for FSU, and anything less than allowing him to leave on his own terms is deplorable. University trustees, presidents, and athletic directors are a dime a dozen. By themselves they add nothing to a university’s value, yet they make decisions like these. I have owned season tickets and attended every home game for years, but I won’t be there in 2010. It’s the only way to show the powerful ones that this decision was a bad one.

Call it Like It Is

December 1st, 2009
8:16 am

Stop whinning Truth as anyone out there would take Spurrier has their head coach.

Too bad, as Bobby should have walked away 10 years ago has FL State has suffered since he has stayed as he does nothing to aid the program except walk around and draw a paycheck.

Not a Nole fan, but I think that most of them are glad of this decision.

Enough Said!

Tim

December 1st, 2009
8:16 am

Let me first say, we are truly losing a legend. Maybe he did stay a few years past his prime, but for all that he accomplished, he deserves the right to leave on his own terms. I’m only saddened by the fact that with him retiring, it’s like the end of an era. I don’t think you’ll ever really hear about coaches staying in 1 place that long again, ever. Now a days, it’s about the $$$. And if the coach doesn’t win the MNC every year, well then he’s on the hot seat.

And, as a Dawg fan, as glad as I’m to have beaten GT yet again , one of the above posters was right, let’s keep this on topic to Bowden and his retirement.

Biff

December 1st, 2009
8:16 am

Holtz? Really?

Sebastain Janokowski Pharmacy of Love

December 1st, 2009
8:18 am

First you were mad. Then sad. Now glad.

Not only are those easy concepts to grasp, they rhyme.

Got 12?

December 1st, 2009
8:18 am

Over course of 34 years, he built the program then proceeded to run it into the ground. He seems like a great person but his retirement is long overdue.

He gave the school no choice.

Dink

December 1st, 2009
8:18 am

Great article Tony, well done.

Go Dawgs!

dagnabit

December 1st, 2009
8:19 am

Tiger Woods didn’t have a good weekend either. But the sluts did.

Fleischman loves BBC in the NYC

December 1st, 2009
8:22 am

7 – 5 on our way to the Independence Bowl ! ! ! ! ! !

It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog

Ben

December 1st, 2009
8:22 am

No one will argue that Bowden wasn’t always a class act or that he was and is a good man. I’m sure there are hundreds of stories like the one you told Tony that thousands of people have. They’ll always have those. But, you can’t continue to ask the Florida State faithful to watch them slip into mediocrity. Bowden WAS given extra time because of what he had done for the program but it’s simply not working. How many people thought that the loss to Florida wasn’t already a foregone conclusion before they even kicked off? Can you imagine that in the 90’s? Tony, even YOU predicted that this year was going to be a good year for FSU at the end of last season and it wasn’t. A change is simply needed in Tallahassee and it’s the right thing to do FOR THE PROGRAM. (I’m not even an FSU fan)

naganole

December 1st, 2009
8:22 am

My apologies to you Tony, but Bobby Bowden lost thei right to leave on his own terms when he stopped putting the program first. This picture you paint is of a different man than what Bobby Bowden is today. He continually choose his family interest over those of the university and the program. Starting in 2000, he chose to skirt nepotism laws and name his son OC. When it was apparent that Jeff couldn’t do the job, he cast a blind eye until the university (read: boosters) stepped in and forced him out. They paid him half a million dollars to leave a job when his contract was already up and he was horrible at it, all to appease BB. When he brought in Jimbo Fisher, he was appalled at what the program had become. He shed light on what a joke our recruiting had become, and how antiquated our practices and team policies were. After hearing this, the school knew this is the guy they wanted as their head coach. Jimbo knew what was wrong and gave us a plan to fix it. FSU tried to make the change gradual with a head-coach-in-waiting plan, but Bobby didn’t want any part of this. He rehired Chuck Amato and gave him a “assoc head coach” title. Chuck did a huge disservice to our LBs by refusing or not caring enough to coach them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference between our LB play under Kevin Steele and Chuck and his “freedom system”. He should apologize to Dekota Watson for wasting his last few years. Luckily, Nigel Bradham and Nigel Carr will now have a coach that will actually teach them. So what was Chuck doing in Tally? Chuck was busy doing everything he could to undermine the changes Jimbo was trying to put into place. There’s enough out there to write a novel about this. I won’t even discuss how he begged Mickey Andrews to stay on after the tragic event with his son. Bobby only cared about himself, his family’s pockets, and his legacy. The program was way down on the pecking order. I wish I could have remembered him for his first 25 years, but I’m afraid the last 9 are going to be hard to overlook.

Sandcloud

December 1st, 2009
8:23 am

Football is big business. Would you continue to pay a person $5 Million a year and not expect better results? Why is it some people do not want to accept it when it is time to step aside and let someone else take charge. The program was in decline for more than eight years. So goes football so goes the university.

Atlanta Gator

December 1st, 2009
8:23 am

Yes, Bobby Bowden has earned the right to determine the time and manner of his retirement as the head football.

That having been said, the time of his retirement should have have been any time in the last 9 years, but not every living legend has a sense of good timing. Bobby Bowden clearly has no sense of timing. Watching Bobby try to hang on to the FSU head coaching job over the last several was reminiscent of Muhummad Ali’s late career comeback attempts—-sad and disconcerting to those
of us sports fans who had known him in his prime.

Bobby was once a great college football coach and he built a great program at FSU, then he became FSU’s team CEO, then its de facto figurehead. Time was passing Bobby by, one small step at a time, and it was obvious to everyone except Bobby. He is 80 years old, and but for the exceptional counter-example of Joe Paterno, Bobby might have had the good sense to realize it several years ago. Perhaps there is a lesson in this mess for all of us to remember: timing IS everything.

When the dust settles, I hope that the manner of his departure is quickly forgotten, and college football fans will remember what the man accomplished, not how he finished.

Tarheel & Trojan Fan

December 1st, 2009
8:29 am

Wonderful piece – the end of it is very moving.

Urban Meyer

December 1st, 2009
8:34 am

Please don’t post any news regarding Carlos Dunlap’s DUI this morning. Rest assured, I have him running stadium steps this morning as punishment. He has already learned his lesson.