Legendary Florida State Coach Was No Bear Bryant In His Own Words
Bobby Bowden has died.
The legendary Southern-talking, media-loving Florida State football coach passed away in August of 2021 – the time of year when he would be running a pre-season training camp – at the age of 91.
I met Bowden only once, but it sure was a memorable moment.
At the time, I was a rookie reporter for the Dothan Eagle in L.A. That’s “Lower Alabama” in that state’s lingo. I was used to covering the final couple years of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and before going into my first Crimson Tide press conference the Sports Information Director pulled me aside to set the rules: raise your hand, don’t dare call him Bear and address him as “coach.”
So when I went down to Tallahassee to cover Florida State’s season opener against East Carolina it was only natural that in the post-game press conference I would address Bowden the same way.
It was unlike any press conference I had been to before or since. Especially one involving a major college football coach.
It was not in a media room with him standing at a podium but in his office. Bowden sat on the edge of his big desk, as if he were about to tell a bunch of stories, and chatted with the media. It was all positive, almost like a family gathering of good times. For someone used to the quiet, respectful setting of a Bryant post-game press conference, it was a major change for me.
In that game, FSU won 49-27 as I recall. At an Alabama press conference, giving up 27 points to any opponent, especially an East Carolina, would have caused Bryant to spend the entire time talking about how embarrassed he was by his defense the reporters would leave wondering if the Tide had actually won the game.
I wanted to ask Bowden if he was concerned about his defense. And this is the part of the story where I understood what Bowden was like and cause me to instantly like him.
“Coach,” I said after identifying myself and my media affiliation, “your team gave up 27 points to East Carolina – are you at all concerned about your defense?”‘
With that, Bowden reacted as if someone just told him the game didn’t count.
“What did you call me!?,” he kind of barked out at me, tho in a kind of friendly high-pitched tone.
“Er, coach,” I meekly responded.
“Well,” Bowden said, “you are from the Dothan Eagle, correct?”
“And you cover Alabama and Coach Bryant, correct?”
At this point Bowen got off of his desk – oh my gosh, I thought, what have I done!? – and came toward me. He stuck out his hand for a handshake and said something I will never forget.
“Hi Kevin, my name is Bobby. It’s nice to meet you. Now you call me Bobby. It’s okay to call Coach Bryant coach but I am not Coach Bryant, and I will never be Coach Bryant. There will never be another Coach Bryant. So you call me Bobby.
“Now I’m going to go back to my desk and I want you to ask the same question but call me Bobby.”
When Bobby got back to his desk, I did just that and he responded this way: “well, Kevin, I’m glad you asked me that and yes I am concerned about our defense. It’s something we definitely need to work on for the rest of the season.”
And that, folks, was the true Bobby Bowden. Or just Bobby to me after that night.