There has been a lot of negative press lately on college sports coaches even some of the more famous ones. I am not one to judge those I do not know, but I would like to tell a story about a famous college football coach I use to work with many years ago – a man I will never forget who quietly retired and is still to this day an inspiration to me.
What triggered my desire to write this story was that I just finished reading his biography, Called to Coach, Reflections on Life, Faith, and Football, which came out last year. This is the story of Bobby Bowden, the coach at Florida State University for 34 years. Listen to these statistics: 33 straight winning seasons, 14 straight seasons of 10 or more wins, and finished in the top 5 nationally. Remarkable success for any college coach in America, success on a level few have attained and few ever will.
But my story is not about how Bobby Bowden coached a football game, because I never spoke to Coach Bowden about how his team was playing or the number of games he won. I knew this great coach in a way few will ever know, not even his many players, who I hope will come to know about this story that was not in his biography. You see, I was a college recruiter living in Orlando, Florida, working for Procter & Gamble, and my job was to visit the athletic department at Florida State University to find a few players to come work for my company. From 1979 to 1981, I would visit the campus, and always visited with Coach Bowden. While he had only been on campus a few years, he was already making his mark at Florida State, with a win in the Tangerine Bowl in 1977 and two visits to the Orange Bowl during the years I visited him.
When I visited with Bobby Bowden in his office at Florida State we never talked about his team, or how he was leading his team; it was always about his players. We discussed the players that he believed would not make it into the NFL that would need to consider another career after college outside of playing professional sports. On one of my annual visits he told me how troubled he was with one of his players who refused to interview for a job after college in business, because he felt for sure he would get drafted into the NFL. Coach Bowden knew his chances were slim, and pleaded him to interview with me and other companies. His player refused to listen to his coach and ended up driving a cement truck in Tallahassee.
Bobby deeply cared about all his players, not just his 1st string starters, but even the players who hardly ever played a down on the field. He wanted the best for all of them, including a college degree and a good job after they left Florida State. My experience told me he cared as much about the future of his players after college as when they played for him. I cannot prove this assertion, but I believe it based upon how I never had a problem scheduling a visit with Bobby when I came to campus, no matter the time of the year.
As I finished reading Coach Bowden’s book Called to Coach, I realized how religious a man he was, and while we never talked about his faith in Christ, I now see how his faith impacted in the way he cared about his players. Bobby Bowden was a true Servant Leader to his players because he really cared about them, on and off the football field. So if you ask me how this humble man was so successful in coaching, I would say he truly was “Called to Coach” and put his players before himself. The impact that Coach Bowden made on me as a young manager at P&G will stick with me forever.
Post by Tom Verdery, Executive in Residence