Bobby Bowden: A Legacy of Coaching Champions for Christ
By Will Dawson
The 700 Club
Bobby Bowden is a coaching legend. His name is synonymous with success. He’s the all-time winningest coach in Division One history, and he’s directed the Florida State University Seminoles to two national championships.
But he says the defining moment in his life came before his coaching career even began, when he rededicated his life to Jesus Christ.
"When I recommitted my life, my whole thinking was...God I’m making myself available to You. I think You’ve led me into coaching. I think this is what You want me to do, God," he remembers.
And unashamedly, Coach Bowden has been using football at the stadium as a pulpit to witness to young men for the last 53 years.
"You know, that’s all I’ve done over the last 50 years is make it available, and you can’t believe the boys that have called me 20 to 30 years later."
According to Bowden, his former players have said, "Coach I’m so glad you did this. I’m so glad you said that."
"You can’t imagine how many boys I’ve coached here that become ministers. That has to be just as satisfying as winning a football game," he says. "All we got to do is present it. We ain’t gonna save nobody. But He will, and all He asks us to do is to present it."
Talk to players, coaches, and the people who work most closely with Bobby Bowden over the years, and the thing you hear over and over again is how much he genuinely cares for people.
“As a coach, he’s had a big influence on my life. He hired me because I was a player here. Bobby showed a lot to me by example as a leader -- dependability and accountability," says defensive line coach, Odell Haggins.
“He’s like a second father to me. He’s been so gracious to my family and I forever,” adds former assistant coach, Chuck Amato. “I’ve often said Coach Bowden is a sermon in shoes. What he says and what he preaches, he follows up. He treats the custodian that cleans the commode in his office just as well as he treats the president of the university. He sees no class in people. He sees no difference in race. He treats everybody kind and with respect.”
He’s fair, but tough -- much like a general. In fact, had he not gone into coaching, Bowden said he probably would’ve chosen the military as a career.
"I was raised during World War II. So I became very interested in the military."
"A lot of those skills and strategies carry over. I get a lot of sayings out of it. Some things that General Patton or Stonewall Jackson said, I can use and you’d be amazed at how much the strategy is alike," says Coach Bowden.
Coach says one attribute that should carry over whether it’s the battlefield or the football field is character -- a trait that he instills in his players.
"I’m one of those guys that thinks if you don’t have adversity, forget about character. Because your character is going to be developed by how well you handle adversity," he says. "Now if you never have adversity, how are you going to develop character?"
And it’s through his own adversity Coach Bowden’s character shines. He’s been criticized for giving second chances to players who break team rules. But Coach says God extended grace to him and when given the opportunity, he’ll do the same.
"I was a boy myself one time. If someone had not forgiven me for some of the things I had done, I would never have made it. So I’m coaching these young men, and I know what they go through and the temptations they’re faced with."
"They’re going to make mistakes. I made them! I still do! But if it’s up to me, and I’ve got a chance to save someone, and it’s the first time they’ve done something like this ... I’m going to give them a second chance."
And he uses those opportunities to be a positive influence in his players’ lives.
"I believe young men need a male in the home. Young boys raised need a male figure in the home. It’s not what most of them got ... somebody to discipline them," he believes. "I take them to church, have bible reading with them, and pray at supper. I think that myself and the staff add a lot."
The landscape of college football has changed since Bowden arrived on the scene. A lot of coaches have come and gone. But Coach Bowden has had success with a simple philosophy.
"When I put everything in God’s hands, I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to worry about winning ballgames. I want to. I want to win as much as anybody does, but I don’t have to worry about this. I know that when I die, I live eternally with my God, so the pressure’s off!"
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