Growing up in Tallahassee a mile away from Doak Campbell Stadium as the son of a former Florida State running back, of course Ernie Sims wanted to play for the Seminoles.
More important than the program, though, was the coach behind it. Sims wanted to play for Bobby Bowden.
“When I got the opportunity,” Sims said Monday, “it was everything that I envisioned.”
Bowden’s glory days were behind him when Sims joined the program in 2003, but the legendary coach still had a presence about him — an aura that showed his dedication to his faith and family — that resonated with Sims.
Sims and other coaches around the state reflected on that presence Monday, a day after Bowden died in his Tallahassee home at age 91.
“Just an amazing human being,” Gators tight ends coach Tim Brewster said. “I think that needs to trump all of his great human abilities as a coach. Just an amazing gentleman.”
Brewster first got to meet him four decades ago when the former Illinois tight end got a chance to play in an all-star game, the Japan Bowl. Bowden was his coach.
“I was just blown away by the guy, by his demeanor,” Brewster said.
He still is. Football coaches aren’t exactly known for being cool, but Brewster remembers Bowden as someone who could stay calm under duress — “an amazing attribute.”
Bowden had been gone from FSU for years when Brewster became an assistant there from 2013-17, but the former coach still gave every Seminoles coach a membership to the golf course he lived on.
“I think Coach Bowden is irreplaceable,” Brewster said.
The memories flowed Monday at USF, too.
Bulls chief of staff Brad Scott spent 11 seasons as an FSU assistant under Bowden, including the 1993 national championship that ended any doubt over whether Bowden could finally win the biggest games.
“He won the big ones — many, many times,” Scott said. “But seeing that championship, that was a crowning moment for him.”
And for Scott, too. He left the morning after the Orange Bowl triumph over Nebraska to become the head coach at South Carolina. Before he did, Bowden sat him down and had Scott convince him he was ready to make the jump from assistant to head coach.
“He wanted me to make sure I had thought through those decisions and all,” Scott said. “But then he said, ‘Hey, you’re ready. You’ll do a great job.’”
So Scott became part of a coaching tree that includes one national title winner (Jimbo Fisher), one who has already been a heartbeat away from winning it all (Kirby Smart) and the second-winningest coach in Georgia history (Mark Richt).
Sims is still starting his coaching journey as USF’s first-year linebackers coach. But he treasures his memories of Bowden, none more so than one particular home visit.
Sims wore No. 34 at Tallahassee’s North Florida Christian and wanted to keep that symbolic number in college. When Bowden stopped by his house, he brought a No. 34 jersey with him to let him know Ron Sellers’ number was being unretired so Sims could wear it at FSU.
“I have that picture sitting in my office still to this day, with his infectious smile, his great personality,” Sims said. “I will always remember that moment.”
Bowden will lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Tallahassee on Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at FSU’s Moore Athletic Center from 2-7 p.m. A public funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Tallahassee’s Tucker Civic Center before he is buried in Alabama in a family-only service. In lieu of flowers, his family requests charitable donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (8701 Leeds Road, Kansas City, MO 64129).
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