Bobby Bowden, Coach Who Led Florida State to Greatness, Dies at 91
Bowden often spoke of his Christian faith; he neither smoked nor drank, and “dadgummit” seemed the most high-pitched word in his vocabulary. He was also a showman who loved the mic and used to slap people he had just met. He seemed, however, to be the prototype of the country boy: “Bobby has never lived in the country in his life,” his wife, Ann, wrote in The Tallahassee Democrat. “He was raised on concrete.
And he could display an iron will.
“The thing about Bobby is that he comes across as such a sweet, sweet Southern boy that people underestimate him,” said Vince Gibson, a childhood friend and assistant to Bowden when he coached at South Georgia College. “He’s a tough guy and can be tough when he wants to.”
Robert Cleckler Bowden, known to all as Bobby, was born on November 8, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father, Bob, was a banker and her mother, Sunset (Cleckler) Bowden, a housewife.
He was a statewide football player at Woodlawn High School, graduating in January 1949, and entered the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in hopes of playing quarterback. He trained with the freshman team, but dropped out of school after a few months and returned to Birmingham to marry his high school girlfriend, Julia Ann Estock. He was 19; she was 16 years old.
Bowden played quarterback at Howard College Birmingham (now Samford University), from which he earned a bachelor’s degree. He remained at Howard for the next two seasons as an assistant coach while earning a Masters of Education from George Peabody College in Nashville, now part of Vanderbilt University.
Bowden was the head coach of South Georgia, a junior college, from 1956 to 1958. He became Howard’s head coach in 1959 and went 31-6 in four years with the help of the coach. from Alabama, Bear Bryant, who warned him. to the Crimson Tide substitutes that he was prepared to transfer to Howard. After stints as an assistant coach, Bowden became head coach of West Virginia in 1970 and posted a 42-26 record for six seasons.
Then he embarked on his long run in the state of Florida.
Bowden was a brilliant recruiter, looking for players in Miami’s poorer neighborhoods and rural areas of the Florida Panhandle. “I love people,” he told the New York Times in 2000. “I love meeting and visiting their fathers and grandmothers. It’s not work at all.
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