Bobby Bowden, the famed college football coach who led Florida State University for over 30 years and transformed the Tallahassee team into a powerhouse, died Sunday, the school said in a statement. He was 91.
Bowden “passed peacefully” at his home, according to a statement from his daughter given to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.
In July, Bowden was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“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,” Bowden said in a statement last month. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”
Under Bowden’s steady coaching leadership, FSU became one of the dominant teams of the 1990s, winning nine straight conference titles, and National Championships in 1993 and 1999. In particular, the 1999 team entered the preseason ranked as the country’s best and stayed there until the end, going a perfect 12-0 on the season.
From 1987 to 2000, he led FSU to 14 straight 10-win seasons, part of a remarkable stretch of 28 straight bowl games. In that period, he coached two Heisman Trophy winners: quarterbacks Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000.
Bowden retired from coaching at the end of the 2009 season after 44 seasons, which included six years at West Virginia University and 34 years at FSU. He coached his last game against his former school, West Virginia – a 33-21 victory in the 2010 Gator Bowl.
Bowden is the second-winningest coach in NCAA history with 357 wins, behind the late former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1929, Bowden played quarterback at the University of Alabama and at Howard College, later renamed Samford University, where he began his coaching career.
Over his many decades, Bowden was celebrated as much for his folksy presence, fatherly demeanor and Christian faith as his coaching success. Three players he coached – Warrick Dunn, Anquan Boldin and Derrick Brooks – were later honored as NFL Man of the Year for their excellence on and off the field. In 2003, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes named a national award for Bowden.
“I guess I want my legacy to be we won and we mostly won the right way, and along the way, people had fun, and I treated people with respect and decency,” Bowden told author Mike Freeman for the book “Bowden: How Bobby Bowden Forged a College Football Dynasty.” “I was something Florida State could be proud of. They’d say, ‘That dadgum Bowden was a good guy.’ That’s how I hope I’ll be remembered.”
FSU President John Thrasher praised Bowden in a statement on Sunday.
“Florida State University has lost a legend in the passing of Bobby Bowden. On behalf of everyone at FSU, Jean and I extend our deepest condolences to Ann and the Bowden family,” he said. “Coach Bowden built a football dynasty and raised the national profile of Florida State University, and he did it with class and a sense of humor.”
“While he leaves an incredible legacy as one of the best football coaches in collegiate history, he also will be remembered for his great faith, his love of family and his mentorship of countless young people. He will be profoundly missed.”
FSU Director of Athletics David Coburn also offered his condolences.
“Mary and I are saddened by the loss of our beloved Coach Bowden, as are generations of Florida State fans and alumni. He impacted the lives of so many people and leaves a legacy at FSU and in college football that will be remembered forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ann and the entire Bowden family,” he said in a statement.