Florida State legend Bobby Bowden dies at 91

Florida State legend Bobby Bowden dies at 91

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who won college football games at a historic rate and helped popularize the sport with his homespun charm, died on Sunday morning, the school announced. He was 91.

Today we lost a legend but you never lose a legacy. Rest In Peace Coach Bowden pic.twitter.com/f7pQpUPqbJ

— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) August 8, 2021

Bowden announced recently that he was suffering from a terminal illness. His son, Louisiana Monroe coach Terry Bowden, told reporters at Sun Belt media day that his father had pancreatic cancer.

Bowden turned Florida State into one of the country’s most relentless winners, as the school won two national titles and finished ranked in the Top 5 a mind-bending 14 consecutive seasons from 1987 through 2000. Bowden’s 357 wins in 40 combined seasons at FSU and West Virginia rank him No. 2 on the all-time wins at major schools, which is behind Joe Paterno (409) and ahead of Bear Bryant (323).

Along the way, Bowden transformed Florida State as an athletic power and a university, as the school’s sing-song chant provided the soundtrack of the sport for nearly a generation. It resulted in the school’s profile transforming from regional to national, as Bowden will be remembered as one of the most transformative figures in university history.

Bowden had 182 players drafted during his coaching tenure and 24 consensus All-Americans, as an All-Bowden team reads off like a Who’s Who of a generation of football — Deion Sanders, Warrick Dunn, Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Peter Warrick, Anquan Boldin, Walter Jones, Peter Boulware, Derrick Brooks, Terrell Buckley, Sebastian Janikowski and Marvin Jones.

For all of the star teams and gilded moments, Bowden never shed his folksy charm and the personal touches that made him one of his generation’s best recruiters. In many ways, he provided the archetype to the modern players’ coach who motivates more through inspiration and connection.

“To the coaching community, Coach Bowden demonstrated that you can be exceptional as a leader and field amazing football teams and be a quality human being – genuine, authentic, giving and compassionate – all at the same time,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think that era of coaches, and Coach Bowden specifically, gave us an example for us as younger coaches to follow.”

Bowden became the head coach at West Virginia in 1970 and compiled a 42-26 record over his six seasons there. He took over at Florida State, who had a 4-29 record over the prior three years, and gradually turned it into one of the centers of the college football universe. FSU won double-digit games for 14 straight seasons, a majority of which came during a time of 11-game regular seasons.

Bowden’s 1993 national title team included wins over six ranked teams and a victory over No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to finish 12-1. The 1999 team went undefeated (12-0) and outlasted Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

For all of those high-profile moments, big wins and help pushing the sport into the mainstream, Bowden earned the respect of coaches for never losing his folksy charm. 

“I had this perception of him,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of looking up to Bowden early in his career. “When I got to know him behind the curtain, he was even better as far as his genuineness and kindness. He was a smart man. He was hilarious.”

At ACC Media Days in July, current FSU coach Mike Norvell choked up when trying to encapsulate what Bowden means to the FSU community. Novell said it was fitting that Bowden released a statement saying he was “at peace.”

“He talked about being at peace,” Norvell said. “I think that even speaks to the legacy of who he is and what he's all about. That's what life is about. To be able to go through a journey, be in a challenging place, a challenging moment, be able to be at peace.”

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