- Tom D'Angelo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It was about 5 a.m., the morning after another game, when the phone rang at the Terry Bowden household, as it does every morning after games and before sunrise.
The Akron coach was looking forward to this weekly, early-morning talk with his legendary father and Hall of Fame coach, Bobby Bowden, after a very satisfying 37-34 victory over Ohio, a game that would be the difference in the Zips playing in their conference title game and eventually being selected for the Boca Raton Bowl. He had so many highlights to recap.
“We had a big win … one of our biggest wins because (Ohio) had just beaten Toledo,” Terry said. “But we had a punt blocked. … And the first thing he said is ‘You’re going to get that kicking game corrected or you’re not going to win any more games.’
“I said Dad, ‘How about calling Jeff, he’s in charge of the punt team. Not me.’”
As Terry was relating that story Monday at the Palm Beach Country Convention Center about how he threw his brother and assistant coach, Jeff Bowden, under the bus, his father was sitting 10 feet away posing for picture after picture. People of all ages and from all walks of life, many Florida State graduates, wanting to get a keepsake from one of the most iconic coaches in the history of college football.
Bobby Bowden turned 88 six weeks ago. But 88 is only a number for a man who is just eight years removed from his 389th — and final — victory, which capped a 44-year career as a head coach, 34 of those at Florida State.
Yet, despite a fall one year ago that resulted in stitches in his head, and having a pacemaker installed, Bowden continues to play golf about once a week and travel around the country giving motivational speeches and collecting awards. After leaving Boca Raton — where Terry’s Akron Zips will play Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls tonight at FAU Stadium – Bowden will return to Tallahassee to the same home he has lived in since arriving at FSU in 1976. Then he’ll head to Mobile, Ala., to receive “some kind of award” before taking part in the Dollar General Bowl parade.
And although football always fell in behind his faith and family, it remains in his blood
Bowden says having his two sons at Akron, “keeps you in the game.” Terry is in his sixth season at Akron, and Bobby and Ann, his wife of 67 years, do not miss a game, whether watching in person or online. But after nearly six decades as a coach, he knows when to pull back.
“Don’t get into it too deep,” is what Bowden tells Ann. “It hurts too much if you lose. When you’re playing losses kill you. When your son is playing and he gets beat, that kills you, too.
“I told Ann I don’t want to go through a second death. This is just a game. It’s his problem. It ain’t ours.”
Still, he will never get away completely. Just this week, Bowden received a call from new FSU coach Willie Taggart and the two spoke for the first time.
Taggart, who two weeks ago was hired to replace Jimbo Fisher, told Bowden how he grew up in Bradenton as an FSU fan watching The Bobby Bowden Show.
Taggart, 41, was born 15 days before Bowden coached his first game at Florida State.
“He was a fan of ours,” said Bowden, who said he plans to visit Taggart at FSU and offer any help he can. “I didn’t know it. He’s going to be a good fit for Florida State because he wants to be there.”
That comment was a reference to the man Bowden groomed as his successor, Fisher, who left FSU just before the regular-season finale to take over at Texas A&M. Bowden, who continues to call Fisher one of the best coaches in the country and one of the smartest he’s ever worked with, believes the timing was right for his former offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting to leave.
“If Jimbo had been happy there and satisfied there it would have been a good fit,” Bowden said. “But under the circumstances it was probably best that he leave and they bring in somebody else.”
Bobby and Ann will attend one last game this season tonight. The game features two sons of legendary coaches with FAU coach Lane Kiffin following in the footsteps of his father, Monte, who serves as an advisor to his son.
A third legendary figure will be in the stadium as Howard Schnellenberger proudly watches an FAU program he built from scratch and nurtured through its first 11 years.
Bowden, Schnellenberger and their wives had dinner together Sunday. The two men have more than 100 years of coaching experience combined at the college and professional levels and were once friendly rivals — Bowden at FSU, Schnellenberger at Miami — and master promoters. Bowden and Schnellenberger once staged a mock boxing match to bring more attention to a game between the two schools in the early 1980s.
“You don’t see that anymore,” Bowden said.
Bowden was asked if they reminisced much about old games.
“Yeah, we talked about old games,” he said. “That’s what us old people do.”