Bobby Bowden is the second winningest coach in college football history behind Joe Paterno. He was the head coach at Florida State from 1976-2009 where he won two National Championships and twelve ACC titles. Bowden was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
In this interview Bobby and I discuss his relationships with other legendary coaches, his national championship runs and much more.
SHAFIN KHAN: What are some of the most memorable games you were apart of at Florida State?
BOBBY BOWDEN: It’s not one we won. It’s one we tied. We were behind 28 points in the fourth quarter with eight minutes to go and we scored 28 straight points and tied 31-31 with the University of Florida in 1994. Another game that comes to mind to me is back in 1980 when we played Nebraska at Nebraska and we had just lost the week before and we had just lost our two centers. I had to start a walk-on against Nebraska and they were number three in the nation. This was back when you didn’t beat Nebraska at Nebraska. They haven’t been quite that good lately but back then you just didn’t beat them there. We upset them 18-14. They were on our three-yard line behind four points on first down and they fumbled the ball and we recovered and ran out the clock. That was an important time because up until that time nobody knew who Florida State was. Then after that people went “who in the world is this?”
KHAN: Who were some of the football coaches you studied and learned from?
BOWDEN: There was one especially that I watched and studied and that was Bear Bryant at Alabama. I was 50 miles away up in Birmingham at Howard college. I used to go down there and watch him. He and I had a thing going that if he had some players on his team that he didn’t think could play and if they could go somewhere else that meant he could sign some more. So, if he had some boys that he did not think would make it he would tell me about them and I would go down there and watch them. I would tell him who I wanted and he would recommend that they transfer up to Howard so I got a lot of kids that way.
KHAN: Did you have a relationship with Bear Bryant?
BOWDEN: I knew him real well. I knew him a lot better than he knew me.
KHAN: Who was the toughest coach you had to go up against?
BOWDEN: I would say Lou Holtz would right there at the top. Howard Schnellenberger at Miami. Jimmy Johnson was one of the toughest ones we played against. He coached Miami to a National Championship and he coached the Dallas Cowboys and they won a Super Bowl.
KHAN: What coaches would you said you developed special relationships with?
BOWDEN: I think Lou Holtz would be one of them. Lou could motivate as good as anybody that I have ever seen. We played one time when we were No. 1 and they were No. 2 and they beat us. He took over No. 1 and he got beat the next week and we won the National Championship that year in 1993. I met Lou when I was the head coach at Howard college in Birmingham. I went out to the University of Iowa to study their offense because they had just won the Rose Bowl. They had a valuable assistant there named Lou Holtz. First time I had met him and we became friends. So, two or three years later he was coaching at William and Mary and I had gone to Florida State. He got married and on his honeymoon he came down to Florida State and spent the night with me. Then he went on down to Miami the next day.
KHAN: What was the feeling of coaching against your son like?
BOWDEN: We played against Tommy nine times when he was at Clemson. We won five and he won four. I kid about that because he beat him the last four so I dropped him. [laughing]
KHAN: You have been in a lot of intense recruiting battles. Who were some of the most highly touted recruits you went after?
BOWDEN: I had a nose guard from Georgia. Everybody in the country wanted him. It’s kind of hard to get them out of Georgia because a lot of them stay home. Ron Simmons. He was around a 230 pound linebacker, we moved him to nose guard and I think he was freshman of the year. Deion Sanders would really be the most notable probably.
KHAN: What is a good memory or story you have about Deion Sanders?
BOWDEN: Deion was one of the best practice players I ever had. Let me give you an example. When he came to Florida State we had to promise him he could play baseball. During the spring he played baseball and during baseball season if they did not practice for some reason he would come over and put full pads on and practice football. Now, how many kids would do that? A lot of people have the wrong opinion of him because he was a showboat. The players liked him though because he practiced hard. A lot of times those stars don’t like to practice that much but he was a hard practice player.
KHAN: Who was the hardest working player you ever coached?
BOWDEN: Sometimes the hardest workers are not your best players. Talent wise Derrick Brooks a linebacker, he played with Tampa Bay for a long time. I had a lot of hard workers. Odell Haggins, one of our nose guards was the same way. I’m trying to think, I got so many I hardly know who to name. Marvin Jones would be one of them. Heck of a player.
KHAN: Talk to me about the 1993 National Championship game
BOWDEN: In the ’93 National Championship we played Nebraska and we had beat them the year before in the Orange Bowl. So, we caught them for the National Championship and they were undefeated and we had lost one game to Notre Dame. Here is the funny thing about it, Tom Osborne had been coaching for years up there and never won a national championship. I had been coaching at Florida State for years and I’d never won one. So, one of us is going to win the National Championship and the other guy whoever loses is going to get criticized. We were lucky enough to win that game. Although Nebraska outplayed us we were able to win the game. He won the National Championship three of the next four years though so I’m still mad at him [laughing]
KHAN: Do you have a relationship with Tom?
BOWDEN: He and I were fairly close. We had a lot of the same beliefs. He is one guy that you would never worry about him doing it wrong, he’s going to do it right. He’s a great guy.
KHAN: Run me through the 1999 National Championship game
BOWDEN: In ’99 we were undefeated and we were playing Virginia Tech who was also undefeated. It was a ball game where we got ahead of them at half about 27-7 and it looked like we were really going to put them away. Then they came back and got ahead of us in the fourth quarter. Then we finally scored a couple touchdowns in the end. That’s when their quarterback Michael Vick had a great game. Chris Weinke was our quarterback and he took us to three straight National Championship games in a row.
KHAN: Do you think college athletes should be compensated in any way?
BOWDEN: I think a little bit. Not a whole lot. You know back when I first played in college a full scholarship was room, board, tuition, books and fifteen dollars a month. Now back in 1948, ‘49 and ’50 fifteen bucks was probably worth 150 today. So, then they cut out the fifteen dollars later but I would think they deserve that because a lot of these kids have nothing. Here’s the only thing, if you do it for football you got to do it for eighteen other sports and that gets kind of expensive.
KHAN: Were you ever aware of other programs or coaches paying recruits?
BOWDEN: No, I don’t think so. You always suspect it. Anytime your ever about to get a good kid and all of a sudden he decides to go somewhere else that’s the first thing you suspect but I never did catch anybody.
KHAN: What does being in the Hall of Fame mean to you?
BOWDEN: It is nice. I appreciate it. I’m in the Alabama Hall of Fame, Georgia Hall of Fame but the National Hall of Fame was the biggest. It’s very meaningful but I don’t get real up on that.