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Legendary Florida State Football Coach Bobby Bowden Dies; Receives Praise Over How He Lived Life

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JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01: Head coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles watches his team take on the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.
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College Football Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden, the second all-time winningest coach in Division I history, passed away on Sunday at the age of 91.

Bobby’s son, Terry, said that his father passed away Sunday morning while being surrounded family at his home.

“My father passed away peacefully early this morning with all six of his children and my mother here by his side,” Terry said in a statement. “I couldn’t have asked for a better personal mentor than my father. He was a wonderful husband and father, who relied on his strong Christian faith to provide the foundation for his life. I also was fortunate to be raised by a football coach who had a reputation for coaching the right way his entire career. He was admired by everyone who played for him or coached against him.”

Terry later told reporters that his father, who said in July that he was battling an undisclosed medical condition, had been fighting 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,” Bobby Bowden said in a statement at the time. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”

A public viewing will take place on Friday at FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium followed by a public funeral service on Saturday on the school’s campus. A separate public viewing will take place at his alma mater, Samford University, on Sunday.

ESPN highlighted Bowden’s life story in a report published Sunday afternoon:

Robert Cleckler Bowden, better known as Bobby, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1929. He was a sickly child, diagnosed with rheumatic fever and spending a great deal of his youth in bed. It was then, listening to radio broadcasts, that Bowden developed a love of football. He listened to Alabama games on the radio — and while football didn’t cure Bowden, it certainly led to his life’s calling. With his health in check, Bowden played football at Woodlawn High School with dreams of going on to suit up for the Crimson Tide.

And that he did — at quarterback, no less — but love eventually took precedence. Alabama’s policy at the time was that freshmen couldn’t get married, but Bowden really wanted to marry his high school sweetheart, Ann Estock. So he did, and he walked away from his Tide career as a result. He went on to play quarterback for Howard College (now Samford University). He also played baseball and ran track.

After graduating, Bowden got his first coaching gig as an assistant at Howard. He parlayed that into another job, athletic director and head coach at two-year South Georgia College, which later led him back to Howard as head coach in 1959, where he’d coach until 1962.

His coaching prowess grew in that span, as did his wanderlust to coach larger schools. His University Division (now called Football Bowl Subdivision) start was actually with the Seminoles, as wide receivers coach, from 1963 to ’65. He then went to West Virginia to serve as offensive coordinator from 1966 to ’69. He was named head coach in 1970 and had a 42-26 record with the Mountaineers. … in 1976, Bowden went to Florida State, mostly because it was warmer in Tallahassee and closer to his mother. His first year as head coach of the Seminoles wasn’t his best — they went 5-6 — but it was his only losing record in his 34 seasons there. In 1977, the Seminoles got their first bowl invitation under Bowden, which would lead to 28 consecutive bowl appearances and national championships in 1993 and 1999. For 14 straight seasons, ending in 2000, the Seminoles won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five of the AP poll.

His status as a Florida State legend — and as a legend in college football as a whole — was established in that span. He and Penn State coach Joe Paterno were neck-and-neck at Nos. 1 and 2 on the winningest coaches list. In 2009, Bowden announced his retirement. The last years of his coaching career weren’t stellar.

Former President Donald Trump responded to the news of Bowden’s passing by saying in a statement that Bowden was “a great coach, friend, and champion.”

“He was a man of tremendous faith who inspired many. Seminole football and all patriotic Americans will miss him greatly,” Trump added.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis praised Bowden in a statement on Sunday, saying that Bowden “lived a remarkable life and leaves an incomparable legacy.”

“Coach Bowden also prepared his players to be leaders in their communities, and many have made a great impact across Florida and beyond. Most importantly, he lived his life guided by a strong faith in God, dedication to his family and service to his community,” DeSantis added. “RIP to a truly great man and legendary Floridian, Coach Bobby Bowden.”

Bowden was widely praised by top coaches, players he coached, journalists, and even rival athletic programs following his passing.

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