Bobby Bowden dies at 91, remembered as coaching legend on and off field
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called Bobby Bowden a “model” that other college coaches should follow.
“He was such a great example of not losing sight of the main thing: a man of faith, a great husband, a great father,” Swinney said in a statement posted on Clemson’s football Twitter account.
College football mourned the loss of one of its greatest coaches as the nation awoke to the news Sunday morning.
Bowden, who won 377 games over four decades leading programs and built Florida State into one of college football’s great dynasties with two national championships, died at 91.
“Today, we lost a legend,” tweeted former Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer, now the head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. “Bobby was a great friend and mentor to me, and his impact transcended the coaching profession in so many ways.”
Family, friends and fans had been bracing for Bowden’s passing for several weeks.
He announced on July 21 he had a terminal illness and his son Terry Bowden later said it was pancreatic cancer. In recent days, family had gathered in Tallahassee, Florida, to be around him.
Terry Bowden said in a statement Sunday that his father passed away with all six children by his side.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better personal mentor than my father,” Terry Bowden said. “He was a wonderful husband and father, who relied on his strong Christian faith to provide the foundation for his life. I also was fortunate to be raised by a football coach who had a reputation for coaching the right way his entire career. He was admired by everyone who played for him or coached against him. As a family, we will embrace all of those wonderful memories and celebrate a life well lived.”
Florida State president John Thrasher said in a statement Bowden will be profoundly missed.
Thrasher said Bowden built a football dynasty and raised the national profile of Florida State University, doing 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,” Thrasher said.
Current Florida State coach Mike Norvell called the folksy Southerner the program’s “patriarch.”
“Coach Bowden was one of the greatest coaches ever, but more than that he was an incredible man,” Norvell said. “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.”
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.”
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.”
At last month’s ACC media days, Swinney recalled a memory of Bowden from earlier in his career at a coaches’ meeting.
He said the laid-back legendary coach would often be flipping through a newspaper while coaches were discussing different topics including one about the warrants of adding the Sun Bowl, seemingly oblivious to the conversation around him. Then, Swinney said, Bowden put the newspaper down on his chest and in his Southern drawl chimed in.
“He goes, ‘Boys, y’all going to be doing this a lot longer than me, but y’all want the Sun Bowl. That’s a great trip right there,’” Swinney said with a laugh.
Bobby Bowden was an avuncular yarn-spinner who fused “fast-break” football and Southern charm to transform Florida State into a national college football powerhouse.
By the end of his career, he had more wins, 377, than any major college football coach.
Considered one of the greatest coaches and great characters in the game, Bowden died early Sunday morning at his northwest Florida home surrounded by his family after battling pancreatic cancer, his son Terry Bowden told reporters. He was 91 and had struggled with health issues since falling ill with COVID-19 in late 2020. In July 2021, Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat he had been diagnosed with a terminal medical condition.
“I’m at peace,” he said.
As with most things involving Bowden, there’s a story that goes with his rise to the top.
He and his good friend Joe Paterno were once in a fast-track race to become the first major-division coach to reach 400 victories. The two stubborn icons battled it out into their 80s.
Paterno, Penn State’s longtime legend, won the race and finished with a Division 1-A record of 409 before his death in 2012.
Bowden ended with 389 wins, but 12 of those were vacated by the NCAA as part of academic fraud penalties levied on Florida State’s athletic department, leaving him with 377.
More than two years after his forced resignation in 2009, however, Bowden moved back to No. 1 as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State.
Crippling NCAA sanctions handed down against Penn State included stripping Paterno of 111 wins, putting Bowden back on top.
“I wasn’t expecting it like this and didn’t want it to happen like this,” Bowden told the Gainesville Sun in 2012.
Bowden’s head-coaching arc spanned 44 years at three schools, and his accomplishments, primarily at Florida State, earned him a place in a pantheon alongside Paterno, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Knute Rockne and Pop Warner.
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