Was Bowden the greatest ever? You’re dadgum right!

Bobby Bowden, who brought Florida State to college football's summit for more than 30 years, died Sunday at age 91. A columnist declares Bowden the greatest head coach/ambassador college football has ever had.

By

Sports

August 10, 2021 - 9:39 AM

Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden is carried triumphantly on the shoulders of his players after beating West Virginia, 33-21, in the Gator Bowl at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, Friday, January 1, 2010. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

One of the proudest moments of my journalism career came in Bobby Bowden’s final news conference as the iconic coach at Florida State University.

It was after he had awkwardly been forced into retirement by former president T.K. Wetherell but was allowed to coach in a career-ending 33-21 victory over West Virginia in the 2010 Gator Bowl.

In the news conference after that Gator Bowl, Bobby was thanking the media for all of their coverage of him and his program over the years — even columnists like me who sometimes criticized him when he lost a big game or when one of his players got arrested or when he hung on too long as FSU’s head coach.

“I feel like I have had very fair treatment (from the media),’’ Bowden said that day.

Then, with dozens and dozens of media members in the room that day, Bobby picked me out of a standing-room-only crowd and deadpanned: “Bianchi, even from you I’ve had fair treatment. … Bianchi wrote some of the toughest ones about me and I guarantee he’s written some of the best ones about me.”

And today, dadgummit, I write the last one about Bobby Bowden.

On the day he died at age 91.

On the day Chief Osceola wept, the flaming spear went out and the Seminole War Chant went silent.

On the day college football didn’t just lose one of its greatest coaches; it lost its greatest ambassador and its best friend. You see, Bobby Bowden could beat your brains out and charm your socks off all at the same time.

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m biased. I’ve written it before and I’ll reiterate once again: I believe Bobby Bowden is the greatest major college football coach of all time. No, he didn’t have nearly as many national championships as Nick Saban or Bear Bryant or quite as many victories as Joe Paterno, but he did something none of the other giants in the profession have ever done. He made something from nothing.

He didn’t just put FSU on the map; he drew the dadgum map. Greatness isn’t just defined by how many games or championships you win; it’s defined by what you believe, conceive and then create.

BEFORE Saban and before the Bear, Alabama had won national titles and gone to Rose Bowls under coaches such as Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas. Before Paterno got to Penn State, there was another great coach there named Rip Engle, who is now in the College Football Hall of Fame. Engle is the man responsible for putting Penn State on the map by going 104-48-4 in 16 seasons and never having a losing record.

Before Bowden, FSU was a tire fire — a dilapidated, downtrodden, dysfunctional mess of Cigar Bowl bids, chicken wire scandals and losing seasons. There was even discussion of shutting down the football program.

IN HIS autobiography, “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith, and Football,” Bowden, an avid history buff, said the only worse jobs than coaching FSU when he took over in 1976 were being the mayor of Atlanta after Gen. Sherman destroyed the city or being Gen. Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

But when Saint Bobby arrived in Tallahassee, he built a dynamic, dynastic program that won 12 ACC championships, finished in the top four in the nation for 14 straight seasons and won two national titles. If there had been a four-team playoff when Bowden was coaching, who knows, he might have more national championships than Saban.

But what separated Bobby was his ability to not only dazzle you with his on-field trickery but also disarm you with his off-field humor. He won a bunch of games, but he did it with that down-home, country boy charm and fan-friendly, fish-and-grits demeanor that made him arguably the most beloved coach in the history of college football.

WHO WILL ever forget his quips and quotes through the years?

Like the time he was asked about the toughness of one of his players, and he replied, “That boy don’t know the meaning of the word fear. In fact, I just saw his grades, and that boy don’t know the meaning of a lot of words.”

Or the time when he was asked about why he wanted to keep coaching, and he said, “After you retire, there’s only one big event left — and I ain’t ready for that.”

Related