There will never be another like Bobby Bowden

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last time I was with Bobby Bowden was nearly three years ago. He spoke to a group at Flagler College. And before he did, Bowden agreed to chat with me on camera.

Former St. Augustine High head coach Joey Wiles had set it up. Bobby was 88 years old then and slowing down a bit physically, but he was mentally as sharp as ever and gracious as always.

I asked Bowden how things had changed over his time coaching the Seminoles and he told me that the number of schools in the state of Florida with football programs would have made it a more difficult challenge than he faced in his early days at FSU. Maybe, but who would bet against Bowden in any era?

He had a way of charming everyone — especially mothers of recruits who cooked for him during in-home visits. But it was never a used-car salesman type of false charm. Bowden was genuine. That’s the word I keep hearing from players who played for him.

“He was genuine, and he always was genuine to everybody he met,” said former Seminole and Jaguars offensive tackle Todd Fordham.”

“No matter what your question was, he didn’t look at you from a value perspective, of what you could give to him. He just wanted to always give his best to you. That’s a quality that I think, is probably one of the things that I picked up the most from him.”

I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of Bobby Bowden again. There may be coaches who treat people like Bobby did, who win a lot of games and championships, but the era of openness with college football coaches is a thing of the past. When Bowden was coaching at FSU, his home phone number was listed in the phone book.

Now, people hardly use phone books.

But it would be like Nick Saban listing his cell number on his Twitter account. Can you picture that? I can’t. And not just because Nick Saban wouldn’t have a Twitter account. College football coaches making millions of dollars keep a distance from reporters now.

This means they also keep a distance from the fans, in a way. Bowden never did. He was as willing to have a conversation with the guy behind the counter at the golf shop as he was with a university president. And Bowden would make them both feel like they were the most important person he would speak with that day. Bowden was a unique personality and one of the great coaches of all time.

I don’t know how Bowden would do in this age of social media and the transfer portal and Name-Image and Likeness, but if I was a betting man, I would bet that he would navigate the changing landscape of college football as he always did.

With a smile, a joke, and plenty of wins.


About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.