Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden knows a thing or two about leadership.
From 1976 until his retirement in 2009, Bowden guided the Seminoles to 12 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, two national championships and one losing season.
With his coaching days behind, Bowden continues to influence young athletes through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He spoke at the Southern Illinois Chapter’s Home Team Banquet Tuesday at the Student Center Ballrooms.
Bowden said he first learned about the FCA in 1963, when he became an assistant coach at Florida State.
“The more I looked into it and saw what happened through it, the more interested I became,” he said. “I’m on the board now. I’ve spent a lot of my time speaking at FCA events.”
Bowden estimated he speaks at FCA events an average of once per week, or 52 times a year.
Bowden’s message is simple. Through a speech filled with football anecdotes and jokes he has accumulated throughout his career, he illustrated a picture of the need for positive role models for young athletes. To Bowden, a coach is the perfect candidate.
“Most coaches are looked up to. It’s just natural,” he said. “When I was a kid coming up, I was lucky to have a dad, and he was No. 1. But next to him at No. 2 was my coach, and it was close. All of these young boys and girls look up to their coaches, and they can make such an influence. Outside of their parents, coaches are the most influential to kids.”
Bowden said the FCA can fill a hole in the lives of children who do not have guidance from both parents.
“We all have a responsibility to love our fellow man and to try to help our fellow man,” he said. “These young boys and girls are growing up unsupervised. When I was your age, divorce wasn’t prevalent. Now you’ve got so many young (children) that don’t have a daddy. They need a daddy. These coaches and FCA directors can be that dad.”
Through the course of the evening, several area men took the stage and gave testimonies of their faith, as well as inspiration they have drawn from the FCA and Bowden.
Roger Lipe, the FCA representative for southern Illinois, said he was pleased with the way Bowden communicated his message to the crowd with honesty and integrity. Lipe said he was also appreciative of the other speakers.
“We were blessed by the local people that spoke, including Mike McElroy,” he said. “These people are best at telling our local story.”
McElroy, a former safety for the SIU football team, spoke about his football career and how his faith led him toward the idea of the last season’s Blackout Cancer Campaign and the Saluki Toy Drive.
SIU football coach Dale Lennon praised Bowden for his accomplishments both on and off the field.
“I admire that Coach Bowden has paid his dues in this profession,” Lennon said. “He has worked for, and earned, all of the respect that he gets. He has a great sense of humor, and he’s a family man.”
Lipe said a coach like Bowden is refreshing in a world where coaches aren’t always good examples for their players.
“A guy like him has incredible integrity,” Lipe said. “Someone who has been solid for several decades in the coaching world draws a sharp contrast to some of the coaches at the other end of the spectrum, like Bobby Petrino.”
While Bowden stood at the podium Tuesday and preached his message of responsibility and good virtue to the capacity crowd, reports were spreading of Petrino’s firing as football coach at the University of Arkansas after he lied to the school about an alleged mistress following a motorcycle accident.
“We want to create more coaches like coach Bowden and less like Bobby Petrino,” Lipe said.