Much like a teacher, a coach has the power to positively shape lives and leave a lasting impact on both people and communities. Bobby Bowden, former head football coach at Florida State University, is a shining example of how just one person can inspire countless others.
“When you really think about it, there are only a handful of coaches that have had as far-reaching of an impact as Coach Bowden,” said Megan Buning, teaching faculty in FSU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Athletic Coaching (FSU COACH) and former FSU softball coach. “He inspires not only football athletes and coaches to this day, but coaches of different sports, retired coaches and non-coaches.”
Bowden served as head coach of the Seminoles from 1976 to 2009, leading FSU to twelve Atlantic Coast Conference championships, a National Title in 1993 and a BCS National Championship in 1999. A statue of Bowden stands outside the Moore Athletic Center on campus with a plaque that reads:
“Bobby Bowden said his philosophy of coaching was to ‘develop my players into winners physically, academically and spiritually.’ That philosophy was not inspired by legendary coaches, but by his mother and father. ‘My family was, and always will be, No. 1 with me.’”
This ethos resonated with Tim Baghurst, professor and director of FSU COACH. “I took a photo of his coaching philosophy printed on the plaque, and it’s one I’ll continue to share in the classes I teach,” he said.
Buning remembers Bowden for his kindness and generosity. One example is demonstrated by, strangely enough, a storage room under the football stadium.
“Back in those days, the athletic department had a spare room under the football stadium where any item fans wanted Coach Bowden to sign were stored,” said Buning. “He would sign almost anything, and he’d sign for free!
“I remember when Bobbleheads made one of Coach Bowden for the first time, so naturally I had to have one signed! I received a notification that my bobblehead was ready for pick up. Apparently, Coach Bowden had never seen one before and got a good laugh at seeing one of himself. The staff member told me I was the first bobblehead he’d signed. I think fondly of this memory because it reminds me of how generous Coach Bowden was with his time. There were hundreds upon hundreds of items in that storage room for him to sign, and he signed freely and graciously.”
Buning also remembers Bowden for the respect he showed to everyone he met. “I had the pleasure of interacting with him on a few occasions while I coached softball at FSU,” she said. “He had a sincere respect not only for football athletes and coaches, but for all athletes, coaches and staff.
“He invited all sports to bring recruits into the football stadium during big recruiting weekends and acknowledged everyone in the room,” she continued. “Being included in this small action went a long way in softball securing recruits and motivating young coaches like me to keep going. This act made me realize that coaching with kindness and creating a community within your university athletic department is valuable and important. He was a big-time name and coach, yet he took the time to speak with sincere interest and kindness to everyone.”
According to Baghurst, Bowden is a model for what coaching should be. “Whether you’re affiliated with FSU or not, or whether you met Coach Bowden or not, his example and legacy serve as an inspiration to many of us. I never had the chance to meet him, but he still impacted who I am and how I train coaches.”