TALLAHASSEE — Bobby Bowden knew better than to make grandiose promises to Florida State fans when he took over the moribund football program back in January 1976.
The Seminoles, who played in an Erector-set of a stadium before sparse crowds, were 0-11, 1-10 and 3-8 in the three years before his arrival. Drive anywhere around town and you'd be sure to spot a bumper sticker that epitomized just how low the bar of success had sunk:
But Bowden, 80, a jovial storyteller from Birmingham, Ala., whose blend of Southern gentility, spirituality and G-rated vocabulary of daggumits and gollees belied a competitive ferocity and bravado, knew he could, in fact, beat everybody.
He pretty much did just that.
During the next 34 seasons, he transformed FSU into one of the nation's most successful programs ever and simultaneously boosted the global image of the school as a whole. On Tuesday, Bowden is expected to announce his retirement following 44 coaching seasons overall, according to reports in the Tallahasee Democrat and ESPN.com.
At his home Monday night, Bowden told the Associated Press he was still mulling his options and would meet with school officials Tuesday to give them a decision.
"There will never be another Bobby Bowden," school president and former Seminole football player T.K. Wetherell said often. "He's special. He will always be special."
From 1987-2000, his Seminoles won at least 10 games and finished in the Top 5 in the AP poll, an unprecedented feat. He also won a pair of national titles (1993 and 1999), 12 ACC titles, had two Heisman Trophy winners (quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke) and helped produce legions of NFL stars. He and his teams also provided some of college football's most enduring images, from a gutsy fake punt against Clemson to Wide Right field goal attempts against Miami.
Along the way, including four years at Samford and then six seasons at West Virginia, he won 388 games, second only to Penn State's Joe Paterno among major college coaches. He gained entry into the College Football Hall of Fame even though he hadn't retired.
And long before his announcement, FSU had named the field at Doak Campbell Stadium, lavishly reimagined from those days decades earlier, in his honor. It also captured his singular drive in a bronze statue that towers before the entrance to the Moore Athletic Center.
"I really feel like I was born to coach," he once said.
Although struggles on the field, the death of a player, the turmoil that embroiled he and his one-time offensive coordinator, son Jeff, and an academic misconduct scandal that involved 25 of his players dominated his final few chapters, the story as a whole was better than anyone could have promised.
"You can't separate Florida State's growth as an institution from Bowden's tenure," Wetherell said during a fall 2009 interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
"Have we done a great job of putting a new medical school on the table? No doubt about it. The same with the film school. But there's just no doubt about it that the excitement that Bowden brought to athletics helped us build on those other academic blocks. I don't know what it would have been like here without him. I really don't. I'm having a hard time just trying to visualize what it's going to be like not having him on the sidelines, watching them run out on the field for the first time without Bobby Bowden is going to be an emotional issue for more people than they think."
Brian Landman has covered Florida State for 14 years for the St. Petersburg Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.