Bobby Bowden passed away this past Sunday. He was 91.
He is certainly considered one of the great college coaches of all time, but one of the things that struck me was the love and devotion which has poured out across the country for just a “football coach.”
In fact, I haven’t seen or heard anything like the admiration for a coach who has passed away since Bear Bryant passed back in the 1980’s. Bryant was a legend in the South and Bowden carried a lot of the same weight.
While Bryant’s legend was built on hard nosed football and hard living. Some of Bryant’s escapades were a little easier to avoid publicity back in the 1960’s and 70’s, but Bowden’s career covered those years and into the 2000’s where prying eyes seem to always catch something a ‘little out of line.”
Bowden had none of that and his motto of “faith, family and football” served him well over the years and many, if not all of his former players have said that’s exactly what he preached.
I met Coach Bryant when I was in high school and only a few years ago met Coach Bowden when he was in a Baskin Robbins getting ice cream on a Saturday night. Coach Bowden said hello and even patted the twins on their heads when I introduced him.
You would never have known the man was one of the best football coaches to ever live, he was just an ordinary person asking if we were going to church the next morning. Emma and Sadie were still too young to realize why I was so excited, but the meeting has stayed with me for many years and I will be able to talk with the girls, now in college themselves, about how important that chance meeting was to me. When I met Coach Bryant it was a few quick words, but Coach Bowden seemed interested in what flavors the girls were getting and how we were doing.
Come to think of it, that was his way of “preaching the gospel,” which he was famous for doing. That type of story was relayed time and again Sunday afternoon and Monday as news of his passing reached more and more of his players and friends.
College football has missed having him on the sidelines or in the booth talking football and now we will miss more than that, we will miss the man. Some say it’s not the accolades you get while you’re alive, but the words spoken about you when you leave this earth. If that holds any truth it was proven over the last few days for Coach Bowden.
Coach Bowden had a chance to become Alabama’s head coach in the late 1980’s but his beliefs and character were challenged by some of the folks in charge back then. Bowden walked away from his “dream job.” He was raised in Birmingham and even played for the Crimson Tide’s freshman team, but he wouldn’t alter his beliefs or faith to satisfy a few talking heads. Bowden went on to win two national championships while the Tide stayed mired in limbo for years before finally reach the pinnacles it now enjoys.
When Nick Saban was a young coach at Kent State, he got a call from Bowden who was the West Virginia head coach. Saban’s father had passed away and Bowden told Saban he had a job for him if he wanted to move back closer to his mother.
Not many coaches would have done that and Saban said he would never forget the kindness and was deeply saddened by the loss of Bowden.
Kind words for a kind man.
If you see me, say “Hey!”
Dee McLelland is Publisher of the Coastal Courier and the Bryan County News.