Bobby Bowden used coaching to witness to players - Word&Way

Bobby Bowden used coaching to witness to players

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) — Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden told a Baptist newspaper that it was his duty as coach to share his Christian faith with all his players, even though it wasn't the "politically correct" thing to do.

"I felt like it was my job to witness to every player I coached," Bowden, one of the winningest coaches in the history of college football, said in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness. He noted that before a game he would share a devotional with the team.

He quipped that he was at times "reminded of the separation of church and state" but his devotionals with players never became a point of controversy because "we won too many games."

Bowden, 80, a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is currently promoting his new autobiography, Called to Coach. He told the Baptist newspaper that his calling to coach was similar to the call of preachers to the ministry.

Bowden said he did not coerce players to profess faith in Jesus Christ and that no player was ever rewarded or punished for his faith or lack thereof with playing time.

In an earlier interview with the Witness published in December, Bowden expressed frustration with criticism and regulations leveled at coaches for sharing their beliefs when a professor can espouse their beliefs with few consequences.

"Why can't a coach express to his players what he believes?" Bowden asked. "You're trying to help the kid."

Bowden said he would tell his players and their parents up front that they could be excused from devotions, prayer or services if they didn't want to participate, but only two had taken advantage of the option in the previous 31 years at Florida State.

Bowden also bemoaned that during his coaching tenure the political climate had changed to where "political correctness" had become a mantra.

"If our nation goes down, it's because of political correctness, in my opinion, because political correctness might not be the truth," he said. "I'd rather be spiritually correct than governmentally correct."

A 2001 profile of Bowden in Baptist Press said that when a student athlete signed to play football at Florida State, one of the first things Bowden did as coach was to send a letter to the parents asking for permission to take the student to church." Bowden would then take his players, as a team, to church twice during the football season.

With 389 career wins, Bowden is the second-most winning coach behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. He is the first coach in college football to lead his team to 27 straight bowl games and won national championships at Florida State in 1993 and 1999.

Thirty-one of Bowden's wins were at Samford University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Birmingham, Ala. Bowden played his college football there — at the time called Howard College — and he returned there after getting his master's degree to serve as assistant football coach in 1954 and 1955 and later as head coach from 1959 to 1962.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.