As unimaginable as it is, Bobby Bowden isn't spending his days out at the practice field preparing a team for the upcoming college football season for the first time in 57 years. We thought it was merely 55 years, but the former Florida State legend reminded us he began his coaching career as an assistant in 1953.
"A lot of people forget about that," he said with a laugh.
At 80 years old, he may be retired, but he's not just lounging on his sofa or playing golf. Far from it. He has co-authored a new book, Called to Coach, that is out today; it chronicles his life, including that last meeting with then-FSU president T.K. Wetherell that ended his FSU career a year earlier than he wanted, and weaves in how his faith has guided him.
"My main hope is to get it to young boys and young girls that need direction," he said. "If they can read it and get something out of it that can help them, that's what I'd like most of all."
Since his departure from FSU in January, Bowden has criss-crossed the nation for speaking engagements, and his schedule will expand as he adds book tour stops. He has squeezed in time for an acting credit on a new television show. And after talking about it for years, he finally visited Jerusalem and literally retraced some of Jesus' steps.
He recently spent time with the St. Petersburg Times to discuss all of those subjects, as well as what he'll be doing in the fall. You might just be surprised — we sure were — to hear about an invitation he received from Florida coach Urban Meyer.
Was writing this book with Mark Schlabach cathartic given how it ended at FSU?
I tried not to dodge too much. The one thing I don't want Florida State people to think is that I have bitterness toward Florida State. I had some disappointment with some people who were involved in my leaving, but never any bitterness. I didn't write the book to say that. But when we were writing the book, you couldn't leave it out.
You didn't come off sounding mad.
I didn't want to. I wanted to state the facts. T.K. had made a statement that I had resigned, like I was happy about resigning. No. I didn't want to resign. But what other choice did I have?
You wrote you were given "options." How did you see them?
One of them was to be "ambassador-coach." There's a new one. (I asked Wetherell), "Well, what does that mean?" (He said) "That means you can't go out on the field." In other words, I'm going to be Mr. Nice Guy. I said, "That'd be like stealing (money). That's out." I wouldn't even consider that one. Now what's the other option? "They ain't going to renew your contract." I didn't want to make a bitter scene and try to fight it. I didn't want it to end up like that.
You revealed that you asked Wetherell if you could do the annual booster tour this past year.
I started the booster tour. I think the thing I missed the most is not being able to get around and speak to all the boosters and play golf with them. Now that I really enjoyed. But he said, "Nah, that's out."
The title of the book's first chapter is "Holding the Rope." Can you explain what you meant when you say you're "still holding the rope that really matters."
I'm probably doing what I'm supposed to be doing — speaking to churches, speaking at FCA (functions), speaking at prayer breakfasts. I've been all over the country doing that. That's what I like. I'd rather do that than anything else. I'd rather speak to a church than at a football banquet. I'm doing a lot of that now, and I'm enjoying it.
You've done most of those outside of the state. Why?
I've tried to stay out of Florida as much as I can so that I won't be a distraction for Jimbo (Fisher). I don't want him to be distracted by, "Bobby's over here making a lot of noise." … When Jimbo gets entrenched and gets his program going real good and has some success, then maybe I can ease back in here more.
Did you enjoy the acting gig, playing yourself, on an episode of The Glades, a new cop show on A&E?
At first I wasn't interested, but they wanted me to, so I came down and did my half a minute's work (laughs).
Well, what did you think of your half-a-minute's work?
I didn't get to see it. People tell me about it. I go to bed too early. I can't sit up till 10. That's too late.
Tell us about finally going to Jerusalem last month.
We had about 75 people (on a cruise) and went over there for 10 days, and I got to walk in the Jordan River where Christ was baptized. I got to sail on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water. I got to go to Copernium where Jesus spent most of his time. I got to go where he was crucified and got to stand on some big stones that he actually stood on. That just chilled me.
After so long as a coach, is this an especially tough time of the year?
It's a good question. People say, "I bet you're really going to miss it." To be honest with you, I don't think I'm going to miss it a bit. The thing you miss is the camaraderie with the players and the coaches. … But I'm 80. If I was younger, I'd probably miss being out there on Saturdays, but at my age, I'm happy to sit back on my couch and watch television and instead of watching one game watch five. … And I'll be pulling for Florida State. If they're not on television, I'll be catching them on radio. I'm going to probably do what a lot of people do, turn the TV on, turn the sound off and listen to Gene Deckerhoff. I've always heard people like to do that.
You've said you wouldn't be going to any FSU games in Tallahassee for at least a year, but you will be getting to some college games, right?
Yeah, they've invited me to the Alabama-Penn State game. Joe (Paterno) and I have always been so close, and of course I've always been close with the Alabama people. (Alabama athletic director) Mal (Moore) invited me up there to sit in his box with him, so I'll go up for that game. Mark Richt has invited me up to attend his games. Even Urban Meyer has invited me down to his place. Urban and I are pretty close.
Really? You'd go to Gainesville for a game?
No. I can't do that. People might think I'd do it out of spite. I would enjoy doing that though, but I can't. When you've gone down there every other year for 34 years and played, sometimes you'd like to go sit in the stands and see what it must be like. I've always been on the sideline with nervousness running through my veins instead of relaxing and enjoying a game (there). One of these days I'll probably go down and watch Florida State and Florida.
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.