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Bobby Bowden: Called to Coach

CBN.com Bobby grew up in a Christian home in Birmingham, Alabama. When he was 13 years old, he was diagnosed with rheumatic fever. He was later told that he had an enlarged heart. The doctors ordered him to get bed rest, and it was was devastating for him.

“Football has always been a big part of my life. Almost from the day I was born, playing and coaching football were all I really ever wanted to do,” shares Bowden.

The doctors said that he would not be able to be active anymore and would have to be in bed the rest of his life. Every night his mom held him in her arms and prayed for God to heal him. Bowden made a pledge to God, “If you heal me, I will serve You. If You let me play football again, I will try to serve You through sports.” And God healed him.

After nearly a year in bed, Bowden was able to go back to school. However, he was not allowed to lift anything or do exercise of any kind – and absolutely no football. So, he played in the marching band. Then in his junior year of high school Bobby received the news he had been praying for: the doctors pronounced him fit to play football again. He played college football at the University of Alabama in January 1949.

His freshman year, he married his girlfriend, Ann. He had to leave the University of Alabama, because getting married meant he would lose his scholarship. He transferred to Howard College. After graduating from college, he was promised the assistant football coach and head track coach job at Howard College. After completing his Master degree, he accepted the job before the 1953 season.

He went to South Georgia Junior College in 1955. By this time, the couple had three children and one on the way. He was 25 years old and not much older than most his players. He stayed at South Georgia for four years until he was offered a head coaching job back at his alma matter – Howard College.

Bowden stayed at Howard College through the 1962 season, but felt he would have to soon leave in order for his career to advance. He received an unexpected job offer from Florida State. Bobby was stunned. He spent three seasons coaching wide receivers at Florida State. Afterwards, the Bowdens felt it was time to move elsewhere. Bobby accepted the offer of head coach at West Virginia after the 1965 season.

“I could not have known how much God would test my faith after I moved my family to West Virginia,” shares Bowden. Living in West Virginia was pretty hard for his family after his team lost the Peach Bowl. Students hung a sign from the dorm window which read: “Bye-bye, Bobby.” Another time, students hung a caricature of Bowden in effigy around campus. Despite the low expectations of the fans, he came back to West Virginia for the 1975 season and finished the season with an 8-3 record and led his team to victory in the Peach Bowl.

In The Green Room
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A few days after the Peach Bowl, he was interviewed for the head coach position at Florida State. He accepted the position in January 1976, but had no intentions of staying in Tallahassee for very long. The football program was in disarray, the university was struggling financially, and the school even considered dropping football. To develop a winning attitude among his players, Bowden told his players they would groom their hair, shave their faces, go to class every day, and be encouraged to attend church on Sunday. There would be no smoking, drinking or drug use among his players. He also expected his coaches to lead by example and serve as role models for the players.

After three seasons at Florida State, with hard work and the recruitment of key players, Florida State won its first national championship in 1993 and the second national title in 1999. 

Bowden’s coaching career ended after Florida State defeated West Virginia, 33-21in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, on New Year’s Day 2010.  After 34 seasons as Florida State’s coach, in which he and his coaching staff led the Seminoles to two national championships and 316 victories and 33 non-losing seasons, he was asked to step down. Florida State chose to turn the program over to Jimbo Fisher, who had worked the previous three seasons as his offensive coordinator.

“I really believe God called on me to coach, and that is the reason I stayed in it for so long,” shares Bowden.

Throughout his coaching career, Bowden, now 80, says he has always felt like he was being led. “I prayed about a lot of decisions that were made, and they usually turned out to be good choices,” he says. “It was time to go home, but my life’s work is not finished.”

He continues to speak at churches and civic organizations around the country. He is also involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, trying to spread God’s Word to as many young people as possible. “Even though I retired from coaching, I still believe that is my calling,” says Bowden.

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