Bobby Bowden, college football’s most recognizable face for two decades, lived to glorify God and frequently stood up to political correctness. His coaching legacy includes two national championships (1993, 1999) and college football dominance from the late 1980s through the early 2000s while head coach at Florida State. News of his death earlier this month was met with an outpouring of statements about his impact, and many of them mentioned something other than football—his faith.
In fact, Bowden was well known for very publicly living out his faith, even in front of his players and coaches. He once said,
I don’t know of any football player that played for me who didn’t know about Jesus. Talk about getting their attention, every Friday night before a football game, they were going to listen to you. I would read Scripture to them. I get letters from (former) players and not one of them mention football. Not one of them. They say, coach, ‘Thank You.’
Mark Richt, formerly Bowden’s assistant who later became head coach at Georgia and Miami, recounted how he came to faith in Bowden’s office a day after Bowden shared the gospel with the team. “My goal became to try to live a life that was pleasing to God,” Richt said.
In 2018, in defense of a football coach whose contract wasn’t renewed because he kneeled in prayer, Bowden told ESPN,
People say, ‘It’s not politically correct.’ Well, the heck with political correctness. I’ve never believed in it. I did what [that coach] did. I prayed after the game. I prayed before the game. I prayed during the game. I prayed all day, and we did pretty good. Now, do I think God is going to win football games? Oh no. I never prayed to God to help us win a game. I would pray for the safety of the players. I would pray that they would do their best. I think God will answer that.
Bowden’s son, Tommy, said of his father, “He wanted to coach as long as he could to advance the Kingdom of God. He’s 91, and he’s going down, taking as many people as he can to Heaven with him.”
Not long before his death, Bowden released a statement acknowledging he had a terminal illness:
I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come. My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.