Bobby Bowden, the Hall of Fame football coach who built Florida State University into a dynasty and who was never shy about discussing his Christian faith, died Aug. 8. He was 91.
Bowden coached Florida State from 1976 to 2009, winning two national championships and 12 conference titles, and also tallying a record 14 consecutive seasons finishing in the Associated Press Top 5. His 389 on-the-field victories ranked second all-time among major college coaches. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
When Bowden arrived in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1976, the program had won only four games over the previous three seasons.
But Bowden's off-the-field character is what many fans will remember. He exhibited a folksy wit and warm charm to players and media members alike. He often spoke in churches and at faith-based events – both before and after retirement.
"If we don't go out and talk about Jesus, how is the world going to know?" Bowden said this year during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. He appeared at the SBC alongside former coach Mark Richt, who he helped lead to Christ during the 1980s.
Coaches, he said, can have a major impact on a player's life.
"Rev. Billy Graham said, 'A coach can influence more people in a year than a preacher can in a lifetime,'" he said in 2017. "And, for the most part, I agree with that. But it can be a good or bad influence."
In 2001, he recorded a video for an evangelistic event hosted by Franklin Graham.
"I was 23 years of age, I had finished college and finished graduate school when I finally realized that I'm saved through grace and not by any way that I could earn it," Bowden said in the video. "… Once you accept that grace and recognize it and make yourself available to Christ ... then He will lead you."
Listen to Coach Bobby Bowden’s powerful testimony that was filmed for an evangelistic Crusade I held in 2001 in Tallahassee, FL. pic.twitter.com/W72yWC6kzw— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) August 8, 2021
In 2017, Bowden co-wrote a book and appeared in a documentary discussing his faith-centric view of football. Both were called The Bowden Dynasty.
Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell tweeted of Bowden's success, "Coach Bowden's legacy is far more about his faith than his football career."
"You could not go through a week at FSU without hearing the gospel message. He cared more about his players' lives off the field than he cared about their football careers," Kanell tweeted. "… He was who he was because of his relationship with Jesus. A lot of Christians preach one thing but live another. Coach Bowden lived his faith daily. That is his legacy."
Coach Bowden's legacy is far more about his faith than his football career. You could not go through a week at FSU without hearing the gospel message.— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) August 8, 2021
He cared more about his players lives off the field than he cared about their football careers.
Bowden announced in July that he had terminal cancer. Richt, a friend of Bowden's, said the former FSU coach was at peace.
"He said that because he knows where he's going, the peace that surpasses all understanding. There's no fear in death. People who live the faith understand that. Our time on earth is a blink of an eye. I'm happy for coach because I know he's going to heaven," Richt said, according to the Florida Times-Union. "God is not going to ask coach Bowden how many championships he won, He's going to ask what did you do with those young men I put under you? And God's going to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"
Psalm 40 verse 4. “How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust.” This scripture describes Coach Bobby Bowden’s life!!— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) August 9, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Emilee Chinn/Stringer
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.