SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Bobby Bowden believes the greatest accomplishment in his Hall of Fame career is he’s never been fired.
“I know that sounds odd, but you look around every day at coaches who have been fired – coaches who last two years, coaches who last four years,” he said. “I ain’t never been fired. But I’ve nearly been fired.”
The 77-year-old Florida State coach also has been successful enough that the National Football Foundation changed its rules so he could be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame while he’s still coaching. Instead of requiring a coach be retired, the NFF made any active coach more than 75 eligible for induction.
Bowden was inducted in December and will be enshrined this weekend along with Charlie Ward, who led the Seminoles to their first national title in 1993, and other college greats, including Florida’s Emmitt Smith, Virginia Tech’s Bruce Smith and Minnesota’s Carl Eller.
Bowden said the closest he came to being fired was in 1974, when he was in his fifth season at West Virginia.
The Mountaineers went 4-7 and fans were calling for his job.
“The administration stood by me all the way, but the natives weren’t very happy. They were forming groups and holding committee meetings,” he said. “The thing I learned about it was how fickle fans are. They love you as long as you win. It’s still true today.”
That idea was reinforced last season, when despite all his success in Tallahassee, some fans wanted him out following a 7-6 season – Bowden’s worst finish since going 5-6 in his first season in 1976.
“That is frustrating,” he said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the same way all over the country.”
Bowden has been largely free from that in his 41 years at Florida State, though, because the Seminoles have been so good. He transformed Florida State into one of the nation’s best programs, leading the Seminoles to 14 straight seasons in which they finished in the top five of The Associated Press rankings. During that span, the Seminoles rolled up a 152-19-1 record, an .864 winning percentage.
After a couple of field goals went wide right against rival Miami, though, some began to question whether Bowden could win the big one. That ended in 1993 when Nebraska missed a 45-yard field goal in the final seconds of the Orange Bowl to give the Seminoles their first national title.
They won again in 1999 when Bowden had his lone perfect season and the Seminoles became the first team to go wire-to-wire in The Associated Press poll ranked No. 1 from the preseason to finish.
“When we won that first one in ’93, people asked me what it was like. It was more a relief than anything else,”‘ Bowden said. “The second time in ’99 was more of an accomplishment.”
Ward, who won the Heisman in leading the Seminoles to the 1993 title, said it was an awesome experience to play under a coach he describes as a “legend.”
“Not in his own mind, he’s a legend by his actions and the way he’s led his life,” Ward said. “I’m grateful I had the opportunity to learn not just about football, but about how to be a man of God and to hold to the convictions you have and be successful.”
Bowden believes he can still coach and wants to stick around for a while longer. He wants to coach “as long as I can win enough doggone games.”