Thanks Coach Bowden
by Geoff Cottrill
November 19, 2009
Today, as I fly across the country once again, I’ve spent the past hour (or so) thinking about days gone by. Some days have been great, some haven’t. That’s the way life is. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. You hope that at the end of the road you wind up with more wins than losses – but you accept the losses along the way. The losses are what make us better. They make us look deep inside ourselves. They help to define our character. Yeah, it’s a lot more fun to win. I know that. But it’s our lifetime record of wins and losses that defines who we are.
Many years ago (more than I’d like to admit) I went to college at Florida State University. I grew up always thinking I was going to be a Gator. As my senior year in high school ended, my hopes of playing division 1 soccer never really materialized. I applied to Florida. I applied to Florida State. I got accepted at both places. I decided to go to FSU because most of my friends were going to Florida. I wanted a new adventure. I also didn’t want to start college during the summer just after graduating from high school, which is what Florida wanted me to do. I wanted a summer to play before going away to college. So, FSU here I come. If it were today, I likely wouldn’t have gotten into either place. Both are great institutions and have over the years, significantly raised their academic standards. Both have a well-deserved reputation as a world-class party school. No one who has ever graduated (or temporarily attended before flunking out) from Florida State can’t hold their own at the neighborhood dinner party. Tallahassee was a fun place to go to school. This piece isn’t about that though. This piece is about something else.
This piece isn’t about college football.
In 1976, I turned 13 years old. That same year a man named Bobby Bowden became the head coach at Florida State. At the time FSU wasn’t considered to be a college football powerhouse. The guys down in Gainesville used to routinely embarrass the Seminoles. Beating FSU was an annual event. The Seminoles were made fun of , as the university that used to be a teaching college for women (there’s really nothing funny about that but the folks in Gator-town sure thought so). In order to build FSU’s program, Coach Bowden and the university decided to take their show on the road. They scheduled away games against powerhouse teams like Nebraska, Oklahoma, & Ohio State. During the early 80’s they needed to do this. They needed the money. A funny thing happened along the way. The Seminoles started getting better. They started beating these teams. I remember the second month of my freshman year, when we beat Nebraska on the road, and then a few weeks later The Ohio State University, we partied on Tennessee Street like we owned the world. Ken’s Tavern was overflowing with people celebrating. This was a lot for an 18 year old kid to take in. I joined the crowd and fell in love with the Florida State Seminoles. So did many, many other people.
We were an average team when I attended FSU. I managed to stretch my time there to 5 football seasons (my folks still kid me about this). We never beat the mighty Gators while I was there. Zero wins against my high school friends in Gainesville. 5 straight painful losses. We were still on the cusp of something great. In four and a half short years I went from thinking I was going to be a member of Gator-nation to absolutely hating everything blue and orange. I became a Seminole. I am still one today.
I sometimes joke about the fact that I was educated in the state of Florida – therefore I am not that good at math or spelling. Its an old joke and it always gets a chuckle. I got a decent education at FSU. Not a Harvard MBA by any means. I’m lucky though. I now have Harvard MBAs working for me. But, that’s not what this is about.
This is about the guy who brought Florida State from being known as The Florida State School for Women to a nationally respected university. Yeah, I know its kind of sad to use sports to raise your profile as a university but lets be honest – we’re not the only school.
This is about Coach Bobby Bowden.
After graduation I stayed loyal to my ‘Noles. I went back for games. I went to bowl games. I cheered and pulled for my team. We started to win a lot more games than we lost. Coach Bowden was considered a football genius. He wasn’t afraid to take chances. He inserted plays into his game plan that prior to running them had only been executed in the backyards and sand lots. He was also known as a devout Christian and a Southern gentleman. He carried himself with grace. He never looked down on anyone. He was approachable and real. His sense of humor has always made me laugh. There hasn’t been an interview I’ve seen over the years when he didn’t say something like “dag-gumit” with his Southern charm.
Bobby Bowden, the coach that toured the state relentlessly during the off-season recruiting and raising money from the boosters. He sacrificed time with his family for our fine school. He worked hard to land the top recruits and to add more Golden Chiefs to the FSU booster organization. He spoke at lunches, dinners, & played in golf tournaments. My Dad once had the opportunity to play golf with Coach Bowden. He recalls the day fondly, saying that Bobby was funny, talkative, and fully engaged. My Dad said he thought Coach Bowden must have forgotten his name because every time my Dad took a shot Coach yelled, “Good shot, boy!”. That’s a memory that my Dad will always have and one that I will also always cherish even though I wasn’t even there. That’s the kind of stuff Coach Bowden was known for.
Bobby Bowden, the coach that led the Seminoles to 14 straight years of 10 or more wins in a season. This has never been done and I’d venture to say may never happen again. During his time at FSU he delivered 2 national championships. Had it not been for a few kicks that flew wide to the right, we would have had 2 or 3 more. But hey, you can’t have everything. We suffered many tough losses to our friends in south Florida. The thugs in green and orange. The same guys that have a “U” on the side of their helmets. Yeah Miami, I am talking about you. University of MIAMI and you choose to put a “U” on the side of your helmet. That says a lot about you guys. Wait, this piece isn’t about that either.
Coach Bowden. The second highest winning coach in NCAA history behind another class act – Joe Paterno. Bobby won’t catch Joe. Somehow, as a Seminole, that makes sense to me. Too many wide rights. Congratulations Joe. We tip our hats to you and to Penn State.
A few months ago a man named Jim Smith made some public comments about Coach Bowden. I do not know Mr. Smith. He is a former secretary of state in Florida. He is also the former attorney general of the Sunshine State. Mr. Smith is also the chairman of Florida State’s Board of Trustees. Mr. Smith, a guy that not too many people in the state of Florida know that well, no matter what offices he’s held. Mr. Smith, who I am sure has done some nice things along his journey, came out and said it was time for Coach Bowden to retire. He wasn’t happy with the winning percentage. He wasn’t happy with the losses the ‘Noles were racking up. Mr. Smith, the Monday morning quarterback of college football, said it was time for Coach Bowden to move to a retirement home and to pass the torch to the “coach in waiting”.
Mr. Smith’s remarks came as a surprise to many, Coach Bowden included. Sure, there have been grumbling for a few years about whether or not it was time for Bobby to go. People wondered if the game had passed him by. Maybe Coach Bowden, the man that has dedicated his life to teaching young men the game of football, had suddenly lost touch with today’s player, they said about him. Coach Bowden, the same man that sat in the living rooms of so many young kids promising their parents that he would look after their boys. Coach Bowden, the man that helped to put Florida State on the national map. Coach Bowden, the guy that put so many great teams on the field, filled the stadium with crazed fans, and won national championships. The national championships that led to bigger TV deals for the university. The guy who helped build the school, a new stadium, and the reputation of our school.
Mr. Smith said it was time for Coach Bowden to go. Mr. Smith said we needed to win more games. Mr. Smith, the man who lost the plot somewhere along the way. Mr. Smith, the politician and chairman of the Board of Trustees, decided that the losses were not acceptable. Nope. We simply can’t lose. We need the money to keep flowing in. We need to sell tickets. We need to get to the BCS every year.
Mr. Smith, I have news for you.
Coach Bowden has given us so much more than wins and losses. He’s given us more than a few trophies that rest in the trophy case in the athletic center that he built.
Mr. Smith, who are you to judge a man who has always carried himself with dignity and grace…….win or lose. What qualifies you to say its time for him to step down? It’s your desire to win and not to lose. What kind of representative of a teaching institution are you?
A few days after Mr. Smith’s comments were made public I received an e-mail from the president of FSU, T.K. Wetherell. The letter said that no decisions had been made about the Coach’s future at FSU. It sounded to me like decisions had been made. And, this made me sad.
I love to win. We all do. But, we all lose sometimes. The losses make us better. They make us stronger. They shape us. They mold us into the people we are. They help us build character. I always thought that was what my university stood for.
Coach Bowden has given his life to Florida State University. We’ve all enjoyed the fruits of his life’s work. We never once thought about asking him to step down those 14 years when we won 10 or more games. Not once did it ever cross our minds.
We were with him when he was winning. Now, Mr. Smith and others (lots of friends of mine), are walking away from the man that has given them so much.
Florida State University. FSU, a university dedicated to teaching young men and women more than what’s in the text books they use in class. This university, my school, has disappointed me more than I could have ever dreamed they could.
Let Coach Bowden stand on the sidelines as long as he wants. He’s earned it. If we don’t win another game the entire time he stands there I, along with many others, will stand and cheer for our beloved “Noles. Yeah, we like to beat those lizards in Gainesville. It’s a lot of fun when we do. It’s also not the end of the world when we don’t.
You win some. You lose some.
You live. You learn.
Mr. Smith – you’ve lost the plot on why the university exists to begin with.
To teach, not to win football games.
Mr. Smith, maybe its time YOU retire. I am about as qualified to say that to you as you are to say it about Coach Bowden. Maybe we should come out publicly and say its time for you to move on. Would you be surprised if you read in the Tallahassee Democrat that you were being called out?
Coach Bowden – Thank you for everything. Thanks for the national championships, the wide rights, the joys of beating the Gators, the pain of losing to the guys who wear a “U” on their helmets, the great defenses, the Heisman winning quarterbacks. Thanks for teaching us how to carry ourselves with grace and dignity in the face of adversity, for teaching us how to win and more importantly how to lose. You’ve made us all better and we owe you a debt we’ll never be able to repay. All we can do is to try our best to teach our own kids that while its nice to win, that we always must remember that we’re going to lose along the way too.
Class of ‘85