JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bobby Bowden, the iconic Florida State football coach and College Football Hall of Fame member with the laid back personality and good old boy demeanor died on Sunday morning after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Bowden was 91.
“Florida State University has lost a legend in the passing of Bobby Bowden. On behalf of everyone at FSU, Jean and I extend our deepest condolences to Ann and the Bowden family,” Florida State president John Thrasher said in a statement.
“Coach Bowden built a football dynasty and raised the national profile of Florida State University, and he did it with class and a sense of humor. While he leaves an incredible legacy as one of the best football coaches in collegiate history, he also will be remembered for his great faith, his love of family and his mentorship of countless young people. He will be profoundly missed.”
Bowden announced on July 21 that he had a terminal disease. His son, Terry, said a day later that Bobby had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 10 days earlier.
The tributes poured in on Sunday after word of Bowden’s death was announced.
“Today we lost a legend but you never lose a legacy. Rest In Peace Coach Bowden,” Florida State said in a tweet.
Today we lost a legend but you never lose a legacy. Rest In Peace Coach Bowden pic.twitter.com/f7pQpUPqbJ— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) August 8, 2021
Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, the former coach of Florida and Ohio State, said that Bowden was a mentor to him during his career.
Today, we lost a legend. Bobby was a great friend and mentor to me, and his impact transcended the coaching profession in so many ways. Sending love to Ann and the entire Bowden family.— Urban Meyer (@CoachUrbanMeyer) August 8, 2021
Rest In Peace Coach Bowden. pic.twitter.com/om6LRmkkIo
Clemson’s coach Dabo Swinney called Bowden a “man of faith, a great husband, a great father.”
"He was the model. He was such a great example of not losing sight of the main thing: a man of faith, a great husband, a great father." - Dabo Swinney in July on Bobby Bowden— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) August 8, 2021
All of college football mourns this loss. Our 🧡🧡 are with the Bowdens today. https://t.co/XAqSvOx1Jv pic.twitter.com/8hdOpHaLoK
Our condolences to the Bowden Family and the Florida State football program on the passing of Bobby Bowden, who was instrumental in making the UM-FSU rivalry one of the greatest in college football.— Canes Football (@CanesFootball) August 8, 2021
Rest in peace, Coach. pic.twitter.com/MdGuy1gGk5
Bowden spent 34 years coaching at Florida State, where he amassed a 315-98-4 record and won national titles in 1993 and 1999 and 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships. He is the second-winningest coach in major college football history, trailing only Penn State’s Joe Paterno. Bowden officially won 377 games during his 40-year coaching career. Paterno won 409.
Bowden’s final college game came in Jacksonville in the 2010 Gator Bowl, a 33-21 win over West Virginia. Ironically, Bowden began his Division I coaching career at West Virginia after being hired away from Samford.
Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell said in a statement that he was grateful for their relationship.
“Coach Bowden was one of the greatest coaches ever, but more than that he was an incredible man. He was a special human being who earned an enduring legacy because of his wonderful heart, faith and values he lived. It was the honor of my lifetime to know him and beyond anything I could dream to have a relationship with him,” Norvell said in a statement.
“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been impacted by Coach Bowden and particularly with his wife Ann, their children, grandchildren, former players and coaches. The entire Florida State family is hurting right now at the loss of our program’s patriarch.”
Outside Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, flowers graced Bowden’s statue on Sunday. Lifelong Tallahassee resident Jason Perdue and his daughter went there to pay their respects.
“He was the heart of this town, the entire time I grew up here. Even my kid knows who he is, and everybody in this town was touched by him in some way if they were here for more than a few years,” Perdue said.
Thrasher said Bowden also impacted lives across the country.
“Coach Bowden impacted the college football scene tremendously, but he also impacted lives -- and not just football players. He impacted lives all over this country. Anybody who met Bobby Bowden understood what a genuine, honest, sincere person he was, a person of faith, a person of great leadership, and that reflected in our program for so many years,” Thrasher said.
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders was maybe Bowden’s greatest and most famous Florida State player. The two-time All-America cornerback, who went on to have a Hall of Fame NFL career, tweeted: “God bless the Bowden Family, Friends & Loved ones. My Prayers are with u. I’ve lost 1 of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
God bless the Bowden Family,Friends & Loved ones. My Prayers are with u. I’ve lost 1 of the best coaches I’ve ever had. pic.twitter.com/aNvkMJ704c— COACH PRIME (@DeionSanders) August 8, 2021
And Chris Weinke, the Heisman Trophy winner who helped quarterback the Seminoles to a second national championship under Bowden in 1999, used the hashtag “greatestofalltime” to discuss his former coach.
“We lost a great one today!” Weinke tweeted. “FAITH, FAMILY & FOOTBALL- nobody did it better than Coach Bowden. I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to play for this man.”
We lost a great one today! FAITH, FAMILY & FOOTBALL- nobody did it better than Coach Bowden. I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to play for this man. Condolences to the Bowden family and Rest In Peace my friend! #greatestofalltime pic.twitter.com/vKj9zU1SOA— Chris Weinke (@ChrisWeinke16) August 8, 2021
Today as we mourn the passing of Coach Bobby Bowden, I reflect on his amazing legacy not just as a coach, but as a man, a mentor and an incredible person of faith. Please join me in keeping his family in prayer during this difficult time. 🙏🏾#BobbyBowden #FSUFootball #CharlieWard https://t.co/Jh9mY1s86t— Charlie Ward (@RealCharlieWard) August 8, 2021
Bowden received the inaugural Florida Medal of Freedom from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who declared April 7, 2021, as Bobby Bowden Day. The state’s Medal of Freedom recognizes “any person who has made and especially meritorious contribution to the interest in citizens of the state and culture public and private endeavor.”
“RIP to a truly great man and legendary Floridian, Coach Bobby Bowden,” DeSantis tweeted Sunday.
Coach Bowden also prepared his players to be leaders in their communities, and many have made a great impact across Florida and beyond. Most importantly, he lived his life guided by a strong faith in God, dedication to his family and service to his community.— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) August 8, 2021
College football programs across the country reflected on Bowden’s legacy, as did people in Jacksonville, where Gators fans Matthew Parker and Antonio Rice spoke with News4Jax about the respect they have for Bowden.
“He was huge for college football, and even bigger, he was a great man and a great leader in football and life, so it’s always sad to see somebody like him pass away,” said Parker.
Rice said: “He leaves one of the greatest legacies in football. He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time. But at the end of the day, beyond football, he was a great man.”
A great coach, and an even better man. Praying for the Bowden family. https://t.co/2X7WYCHw4I— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) August 8, 2021
I enjoyed our relationship after coaching as we served for Rising Stars which helps young men and women from difficult backgrounds go to college and be successful.— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SteveSpurrierUF) August 8, 2021
Megan and I send our deepest condolences to the Bowden family. Coach is a legend in our game and will be remembered as an even better person. Well beyond his monumental career, he touched everyone he met with his kindness. It was an honor to call him a friend.— Dan Mullen (@CoachDanMullen) August 8, 2021
Rest In Peace to a Legend. pic.twitter.com/Iysy2hXtrj— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) August 8, 2021
Rest In Peace, Coach Bowden. I am so thankful for the influence he’s had on me and so many other coaches. What a tremendous legacy! Prayers go out to the entire Bowden family.— Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) August 8, 2021
We lost a great man today. Coach Bowden was one-of-a-kind and touched so many lives. I’m so fortunate to call him a mentor and friend. We send our condolences to all of his family and friends. A legend who will be dearly missed. pic.twitter.com/7STmB8Hjoi— Mack Brown (@CoachMackBrown) August 8, 2021
Prayers for Ann and the Bowden family! Much love and respect and thankfulness for Coach’s influence on my life!!— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) August 8, 2021
Bowden had a challenging final year. He battled COVID-19 last October and was also hospitalized for an infection in his leg after having cancerous spots removed from his leg.
He said in a statement after revealing his condition that he was “at peace” with things.
“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” Bowden said. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”
News4Jax anchor Bruce Hamilton, News4Jax reporter and anchor Zachery Lashway, Capitol News Service’s Mike Vasilinda, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.