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Remembering the life of Birmingham native, former Woodlawn star athlete Coach Bobby Bowden

Published: Aug. 8, 2021 at 6:43 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Robert Cleckler Bowden, was born and bred in Birmingham. A star athlete at Woodlawn, he fulfilled a dream playing for the University of Alabama on the freshman team. But after his freshman year, he married his high school sweetheart Ann and finished his playing career at Howard College, which later became Samford and was one of the stops along Bobby Bowden’s storied career as a coach.   

He also coached at West Virginia and while in Morgantown offered a job to a young Kent State grad named, Nick Saban. Saban turned down the offer to become a grad assistant at his alma mater. 

Meanwhile, West Virginia fans became disgruntled with Bowden after a losing season and in 1976, he left to take the job at Florida State. FSU, which did not officially get re-instated as a co-ed school until 1947, had no conference affiliation and mostly floundered as football program. That all changed when Bowden brought a swashbuckling, take chances and playing anybody, anywhere style. 

The Seminoles started winning and winning big. But in 1986, Bowden thought he was about to get offered his dream job of coaching at Alabama. The accounts differ on what actually transpired that day at a building in downtown Birmingham. Bowden insists he made it clear, given his accomplishments, he wasn’t interested in interviewing, just an offer. But instead he walked into official interview with several members of a search committee. 

He was not offered the job and later withdrew his name as Alabama hired Bill Curry instead. Key members of that search committee insist Bowden did know it was an interview and botched it. Nonetheless, Bowden says he was offered the job again after Curry’s exit, but at that point Bowden was 61 and had FSU rolling. 

And boy did they. 

Setting a record with 14-straight seasons in the top-5, including two national titles. But in the mid-2000′s, recruiting started to slip and Bowden was fired in 2009, ending his career with 377 coaching victories, not including 12 wins that were vacated by the school after NCAA rules violations.

Bowden remained a highly sought-after public speaker, especially at faith-based events. Bowden was a devout Christian and credited his faith for helping his family overcome the losses of two grandsons in separate tragic events.

As he said in his last statement to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, quote: ”I’ve already tried to serve God’s purpose in my life, on and off the field. I am at peace.”

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