TURES COLUMN: What I learned from Bobby Bowden

Published 11:30 am Friday, August 13, 2021

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I only met him once. I never was in a classroom with him. And this isn’t a Zoom thing. But that doesn’t mean the longtime Florida State University coach didn’t teach me a thing or two, reinforcing the lessons that my FSU professors instilled in me, while I was there in 1990s.

I was a graduate student, and a teaching assistant at FSU when the program was in its heyday.  The program was far cry from having a winless season, in the days just before Coach Bowden arrived.  But he had spent decades developing a top-notch football program, where football wasn’t everything.

Sure Bowden and his coaches recruited great players, and talent would come to Tallahassee.  But I came across so many stories of Bowden’s recruiters, and even the coach himself, looking for the player with a single mom, lots of siblings, perhaps raised by grandparents, a kid who was perhaps overlooked by other scouts because maybe the town was too small, or a school where people just didn’t want to go to games in that neighborhood.  If you only had one or two stars next to your name, you still had a chance to be a Seminole. And I was fortunate enough to teach a few of them in class.

As I came to LaGrange College, I found it there were some similarities. We recruit and get some talented students, but we’ll also have some who others sadly overlook. They still have a great chance to make it, but others just haven’t given that opportunity. I learned how giving them that shot would matter so much to these students, who vary by race, gender, class, and ideology.  FERPA keep me from telling you more about those at FSU and LC, but I wish I could tell you how much that college education mattered to those students at both schools. 

Bowden’s critics would attack him for not being an X’s and O’s expert. Evidence from the team’s historic success showed he actually knew a lot about coaching. But he didn’t seem afraid to let those players show what they could do.  I had to learn to let my students do the same. And I found that when you give them a chance to shine, they can do so, more often than you would think. Instead of bowl games, it’ll be about getting my students ready for academic contests, law school, graduate school, and careers, but also the same thing Coach Bowden wanted of his graduates: preparing students to be involved in their communities after reaching their goals.

From the Tallahassee Democrat to USA Today, every newspaper seemed to have a different story about Bobby Bowden and what he would do for his fans.

Here’s another.  I was fortunate to hear him speak and take questions at a country club event.

We were told “Don’t come up and ask him to autograph something for you.” So I didn’t…sort of. I came up and asked him to sign an artwork for someone else, my brother-in-law A.J., who is an FSU super-fan. “Well sure I will!” he smiled … positively happy that he could sign an autograph for someone that night!

By the way, you’ll notice I said I was taught how to be a good professor. I’m not one of the great ones who teaches in the Ivy League, or can always be on CNN or Fox as an expert. But I learned how to care about the students who I’ve been fortunate to become a part of their education. And I’ll keep trying, as long as I get that chance, to be that good professor I’m supposed to be. And when I think of Coach Bowden, I’ll thank him for all he taught me.

Yes, Coach Bowden has passed away. He’s gone, but he’s not forgotten. He lives on, in his players, his coaches, his players who became coaches, and all of those whose lives he impacted.