Until recently I’ve never been a huge Bobby Bowden fan. Even before son Terry’s tenure on the Plains, I just never warmed to the Birmingham native. I suppose part of it had to do with Auburn’s heated rivalry with Florida State during the latter part of last century. I just didn’t like him. I also never understood how he could be viewed as such a good man, while many of his teams were a collection of thugs.
In recent years my view has started to change. I’ve learned to appreciate his accomplishments and the impact he’s had on his players’ lives. Last week, I decided to pick up his new book, Called to Coach and I have to say it’s a dadgum good read. The book explains many of his controversial decisions with some of his players.
Living in the south and going through the Terry Bowden years at Auburn, I thought I pretty much knew everything about the family. I was wrong. In the book, he reveals a number of things about his relationship with Auburn.
While serving as an FSU assistant in 1967, Shug Jordan offered Bowden the offensive coordinator job at Auburn. At the same time, he was offered the coordinator job at West Virginia. While admitting the Auburn position was better, he chose the Mountaineer job because he thought Shug Jordan would be there forever and figured he had a better shot of becoming the head coach at West Virginia – which he ultimately earned.
Bowden was again approached by Auburn in 1980. This time the call came from Auburn President Harry Philpott. He wanted Bowden to be Auburn’s next coach.
While preparing to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, he was holding secret talks with Philpott and members of the board of trustees. “I wanted to make sure that no one found out I was talking to Auburn,” said Bowden. “I did not want my boys distracted while they were preparing to play the Sooners.”
Ultimately Bowden couldn’t pull the trigger. “Look, I can’t take this job,” Bowden told Philpott according to the book. “I just signed a five-year contract extension and I’ll have to pay Florida State $750,000 if I leave.”
As they say, the rest is history. Auburn moved on and chose Wyoming coach Pat Dye.
It’s hard to imagine things being any better than they were under Dye in the 1980′s. What’s interesting to contemplate is how different things would have been with Bowden. Would he still be coaching at Auburn? Would there have been national championships on his watch?
It’s certainly easy to imagine Bowden outlasting Dye in tenure at Auburn. By all measurements, Dye’s tenure was cut way too short. There’s no questioning Bowden’s coaching abilities, but there’s no way he puts together a record at Auburn like he had at FSU. Playing as an independent and then later, as a member of the ACC, the level of competition he faced was quite inferior to the SEC. But you have to give him props for scheduling the heavyweights that he did during his early years in Tallahassee.
If you are looking for a good fall read, I highly recommend Called to Coach. Like him or not, it’s a good account of southern football over the past half century.