Bobby Bowden Practices What He Preaches


Bobby Bowden Practices What He Preaches“You’ve got to set standards and have credibility,” says FSU coaching legend

Bobby Bowden is in his 33rd season as head football coach at Florida State University and, while times have changed since Bowden took over the Seminoles in 1976, the legendary coach has remained mostly the same.

If you want proof, Bowden and wife, Ann, still live in the same house they bought when they first arrived in town from West Virginia three decades ago – despite Bowden’s annual salary increasing from $37,500 during his first season at FSU to more than $2 million per year.

Bowden, who turned 79 on Nov. 8, opened the 2008 season as major college football’s all-time career wins leader with 373 victories, one more than iconic Penn State coach Joe Paterno. Since career victory No. 1 in 1959 at Howard College – now Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. – Bowden has tried to guide his teams to victory through leading by example on the sideline and away from the field.

In the deep twilight of his career, the two-time national champion coach is hoping to return to the top before finally calling it quits.

“When you get to my age, everything is nearly behind you,” he says. “You are still wanting that last surge.”

As a popular speaker on his leadership and motivational techniques, Bowden has often compared the role of a football coach to that of a CEO.

“They are very similar,” Bowden says. “To have success at either one, you have to get people to believe in what you are doing.”

A few days before practice started in early August, Bowden sat down with 850 Magazine writer Scott Carter to share some of his thoughts on leadership.

What should be the top priority of someone in a leadership role?

I think the No. 1 thing of being a leader is that you’ve got to set standards and have credibility. In other words, don’t say, ‘You all do this and I’m going to do that.’ I’m going to do it too.

You often say your job is to ‘coach the coaches.’ What does that mean?

People don’t understand that. You’ll hear the comments, ‘Well, he’s too old to coach.’ Well, the head coach doesn’t coach. He solves problems and coaches the coaches. They do the coaching.

My theory on that has always been to hire the best people you can and leave them alone, instead of trying to sit there and tell them everything they need to do.

Did you plan on becoming a leader when you were younger?

I never thought about that. It just happened. It’s amazing – when I finished college, the athletic director there came to me and said, ‘Bobby, if you will go get your master’s degree, we will hire you back here as an assistant coach.’ That was a good opportunity. I went off and got my master’s degree and came right back. It’s not that I planned to be a leader, it just worked out that way.

Do you still treat players the same today as when you first started coaching?

When I first started, a coach would tell a player to do something and that was it. You wouldn’t dare say why. Now, you can’t coach like that. You have to tell them why you are doing something.

What is a downside of being a leader?

You start off ambitious – ‘I want to work my way up.’ You have to be careful you don’t take shortcuts. You don’t want to stomp on people to get to the top, and yet you catch yourself maybe infringing on that some.

If you had never gone into coaching, what do you think you would be doing today?

Probably be retired military or in a grave. I always liked the military. That's still kind of my hobby, reading military history. I've never been in the service, but probably some people believe I have. Love their kind of life.