Bobby Bowden, who led the Florida State Seminoles football program for over three decades and turned the team from one of the worst in college football to a national power, has died at the age of 91.
Bowden died Sunday just after 5 a.m. at his home in Tallahassee, where he remained after retiring following the 2009 season - his 34th campaign leading the garnet and gold.
On July 21st, Bowden announced he has been diagnosed with a "terminal medical condition." One of Bowden's sons, Terry, revealed the next day his father had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” Bowden said in a statement released to news outlets, including The Associated Press. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”
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Bowden was hospitalized last October after he tested positive for COVID-19. The positive test came a few days after returning to his Tallahassee home from a lengthy hospital stay for an infection in his leg.
Arriving in Tallahassee in 1976 after the Seminoles won just four games combined over the previous three seasons, Bowden quickly made FSU football a household name. He led the Seminoles to their first season of double-digit wins in his second year and back-to-back Orange Bowl appearances in the 1979 and 1980 seasons.
Bowden quickly became one of the top coaches in college football history during a 14-season run from 1987 to 2000, where the ‘Noles never finish ranked lower than fifth nationally. Over that span, FSU won two national championships along with 11 bowl games (including three Orange Bowls) and nine straight ACC titles.
“Mary and I are saddened by the loss of our beloved Coach Bowden, as are generations of Florida State fans and alumni," Florid State athletic director David Coburn said in a statement. "He impacted the lives of so many people and leaves a legacy at FSU and in college football that will be remembered forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ann and the entire Bowden family.”
Along the way, the Seminoles lost several close games to rival Miami thanks to a missed field goal attempt. Despite that, FSU and the ‘Canes still played each season with Bowden winning three of his final five contests against UM.
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Current Miami Hurricanes head football coach Manny Diaz, who attended FSU and later severed as a graduate assistant for the Seminoles, called Bowden the "north star" for young coaches during his time in Tallahassee.
"I was so fortunate that my introduction into this profession was sitting in a staff room with Bobby Bowden every day," Diaz said. "The person you saw on TV and his selflessness, the humility, servant of leadership was the exact same guy he was inside the building."
The dynasty era for FSU football saw the Seminoles send some of the top players to the pro game, including future College and Pro Football Hall of Fame members like Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward and Derrick Brooks. Bowden himself was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
The field where the Seminoles play their home games was named after Bowden during the 2004 regular season finale.
Bowden announced his retirement following a 6-6 regular season in 2009 and went out on top with a comeback win over West Virginia - where he coached for six seasons before FSU - in the Gator Bowl for his 377th career victory.
"To me, the fact he won as many games as he won and also was who he was as a man shows that you can do both," Diaz said. "You can win a lot of games and be a great person like Coach Bowden is."
Bowden stayed away from the team for several years before returning in 2013 to honor the 20th anniversary of the school’s first national champs - with FSU bringing home their third national title later that season.
“Coach Bowden was one of the greatest coaches ever, but more than that he was an incredible man. He was a special human being who earned an enduring legacy because of his wonderful heart, faith and values he lived," current FSU head coach Mike Norvell said in a statement. "It was the honor of my lifetime to know him and beyond anything I could dream to have a relationship with him. The entire Florida State family is hurting right now at the loss of our program’s patriarch.”
After his passing, both former players and even rival programs expressed their condolences.
Born on November 8th, 1929 in Birmingham, Alabama, Bowden started his college career playing for the Alabama Crimson Tide before transferring to what is now Samford University.
After his playing career ended, Bowden went into coaching as an assistant at several locations, including both his alma mater and FSU, before eventually getting his first head coaching job in 1970.
Bowden his survived by his wife of 72 years, Ann, as well as six children and 21 grandchildren. His kids including Terry, who severs as the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe and previously was the head coach at both Auburn and Akron, former Clemson head coach Tommy and former FSU assistant Jeff.
Coach Bowden will lie in honor at the Florida Capitol Rotunda on Friday, August 13th before it will lie in honor inside the Moore Athletic Center on the FSU campus.
A funeral service will take place Saturday inside the Tucker Civic Center on campus at 11 a.m. which is open to the public. Bowden's body will lie in repose on the campus of Samford University on Sunday before a private burial in Trussville, Alabama.