Dadgummit, Bowden Was an Original
Having seen him lathered up and naked in the shower, I know that's the truth. It's not that I'll miss seeing a 70-something-year-old doing a striptease. What college football will miss is a coach willing to let it all hang out.
Today's sidelines are dominated by colorless control freaks. They know Xs and Os, but their personalities are Zzzz.
Bowden was the last of the great characters, the gregarious Good Old Boy. If you knew him, you couldn't help but love him. If he beat you, you suspected Saint Bobby was all an act.
Let me assure you, it was no act.
My father played football with Bowden at Howard College. As part of the initiation into the Letterman's Club, players were stripped, blindfolded and told to stand in a circle.
They were punched and kicked until an upperclassmen called their name. My dad positioned himself in front of Bowden, figuring he was the one guy with enough sense or compassion to pluck him out.
My dad took a hit and rolled on the floor. Sure enough, he heard Bowden's voice calling like an Angel of Mercy.
It's a stretch to say Bowden saved my father's life, but the boys were kicking pretty low that night. If my father had really caught a good one, I might not be here today.
So I'll admit I'm not completely objective here. But even if no one I knew had ever heard of Bowden, Tuesday's news would have been depressing.
Maybe Jimbo Fisher will. I just hope he doesn't become yet another cardboard cutout coach.
Scan the list of BCS schools and think of the men who wear the big headset. Some of them have an image, but who really has style?
Steve Spurrier? Pete Carroll? You quickly don't run out of fingers trying to count them.
That's not to say coaches aren't warm or entertaining or kind to animals. It's just that we'd never know it. They're too wrapped up in the role of postmodern coach.
That means running the program like a CEO operates a widget factory. They're workaholics who don't have time to relax, much less spoof Michael Jackson.
I'll never forget Bowden doing it. It was at the height of Thriller Fever 25 years ago and one of the local TV guys showed up and asked if Bowden would do an interview wearing one sequined glove, the kind Jacko wore for no apparent reason.
Bowden gladly slipped it on and propped his arm up on the back of a couch. He did an entire football-related interview completely deadpan, never acknowledging the hilarious prop next to his face.
I just can't see Jim Tressel doing that.
You say the media loved Bowden? Guilty, and with good reason. Whether you were from ABC Sports or a 100-watt radio station, he was friendly, accessible and usually ended the interview with "You got enough?"
He was happy to do TV interviews during the game, even if it played into the narrative that he was just a bumpkin letting others run the show. Bowden was secure enough to not worry about what his critics thought.
I can't see Rich Rodriguez doing that.
Every Sunday morning after a home game, Bowden would have "Breakfast with Bobby" for the media. He'd sit there, drink coffee and chat about whatever you wanted. Even about Sebastian Janikowski's latest brush with the law.
I just can't see Urban Meyer doing that.
These days, it's all about message control. Most schools cut off all player access after Tuesday of game week. For most of Bowden's reign you could almost go into FSU's locker room and chat at will with Deion Sanders or LeRoy Butler.
Bowden wasn't just doing the media a favor. He was doing FSU a favor by publicizing the program, generating interest and creating fans.
Unlike most coaches Bowden acted as if he had nothing to hide. That's because he didn't. This is a man who had his name listed in the Tallahassee phone book for most of the 34 years at FSU.
I just can't see any coach doing that, and I don't blame them.
Bowden certainly had his flaws. The various scandals at FSU over the years were inexcusable, but they generally stemmed from Bowden being too forgiving or having too much faith in his players.
He was surprised as anyone by the Free Shoes U. cover story in Sport Illustrated in 1993. I know because I had to hunt him down when the story broke. He was in Sarasota on his booster tour, and I missed him after giving his speech.
I ran to the elevator and saw it to the sixth floor of the hotel. The elevators were painfully slow, but I caught the next one up and ran into a booster official.
He pointed me to the right room. I knocked on the door, and Bowden answered. He was wearing his dress shirt and boxer shorts. After a long and trying day, a reporter was there to grill him about an embarrassing topic.
Instead of slamming the door, he invited me in.
I just can't see Nick Saban doing that.
Saban once blew off dinner with the president because he had a preseason game to prepare for. Bowden hated losing as much as any coach, but even in the darkest Wide-Right/Left moments against Miami, he always found some gallows humor.
The only time I saw him depressed was when his grandson and former son-in-law were killed in a car wreck. He knew what was really important in life, and true fulfillment wouldn't come from winning another ACC title.
Bowden won plenty of those, though they've become long lost relics. Saban is obviously a better coach now. So are Meyer and Tressel and Brian Kelly and others. But don't let the last few years erase what came before.
Bowden showed up in 1976 and found a program in shambles. He turned it into a dynasty, and almost everybody he met was happy to have known him.
If that was all an act, I wish more coaches would try to follow it.