Although venerated as one of the winningest coaches in college football who led his teams to finish as an AP top-5 team for 14 consecutive seasons and garner two national championships, such accolades are not how Bobby Bowden would most like to be remembered, according to those who knew him well.
Bowden, who died Aug. 8 at age 91 from pancreatic cancer, believed influencing the young men who played for him for Christ was God’s greater purpose for his life.
One quote that former Clemson University offensive coach and assistant athletic director Brad Scott recalls Bowden sharing many times was, “I want most to be remembered as a coach who made a difference in the spiritual life of my players.”
Scott, who was an assistant coach at Florida State and an offensive coordinator under Bowden when the university won its first national football championship in 1993, said, “When I think about Coach Bowden’s life, the first thing that comes to my mind is the priorities that he taught and modeled in his life: faith, family, football.”
Beyond understanding Xs and Os on a chalkboard, the legendary coach sought to instill character and values in his players, beginning with the Christian faith. He would regularly take team members to worship with him at First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, where he was a member for more than four decades.
“Football is not the number one priority in my life,” Bowden explained to a Baptist Press reporter in January 1999, before the Seminoles lost to the undefeated Tennessee Volunteers in a national title bout at the Fiesta Bowl. “Football is a way God has given me to support my family and witness to young men,” he said. The Seminoles would be back to win their second national title the following year in the Sugar Bowl.
“To Bowden,” the news writer observed, “the message is simple: ‘Put God first in your life, and you cannot fail.’”
During his storied career that spanned 44 years — 34 at Florida State — in which his teams amassed 378 wins and 32 bowl appearances, the Hall of Fame inductee used his high-profile platform not only to coach, but to witness. One of his former assistant coaches, Chuck Amato, often called Bowden “a sermon in shoes.”
Clint Purvis, long-time chaplain for the FSU football team, who worked alongside Bowden for 21 years, recalled in an Aug. 9 interview with BP, “Coach was able to present the message of Christ in such a way that even those who didn’t want anything to do with God respected him. He was one of the most competitive men I knew, and wanted to win -— but he wanted every player who came to this place to know Jesus and that He could make a difference in their lives.”
Back in 2010, speaking to a roomful of students at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ breakfast before the Gator Bowl, which would be his final appearance as FSU’s head coach, Bowden quipped that he didn’t know “when the end” would come for him, but “I’m preparing for my finals.” He added, “If you’ll put your faith in God through Jesus Christ and ask Him to lead you, He will do that. That’s what He did in my life.”
When he announced his terminal diagnosis this July, Bowden said, “I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come. My wife, Ann, and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”
— (Compiled from BP sources.)