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Bobby Bowden left more than legacy of sports behind

Matthew 25:23


“ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things … I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ ”

Faith, family and football dominated legendary coach's life


Bobby Bowden died early on Sunday morning Aug. 8. Instantly, tributes came pouring in throughout the country via news reports and social media of this legendary college football coach and his incredible, out-going personality and incredible zest for life.


But what was the most heart-warming is what he stood for: faith, family, and football. He was more than a football coach, but a spiritual mentor with his roots firmly planted in his relationship with Christ.


Professionally, I interacted on two different occasions with Bowden. Once as a young reporter who came to Tallahassee in 1991 to do preview stories when Middle Tennessee State, then a small school, was getting ready to play the top-ranked Seminoles.


I was amazed how Bowden took the time to do a one-on-one interview with me when all the other larger news outlets were clamoring for his attention. But that’s the way he was … he made you feel important.

The second time was the 2003 Sugar Bowl when Florida State was playing the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs coached by Mark Richt.


Richt spent seven seasons as an offensive coordinator under Bowden before being hired as the head coach at Georgia, but it was an earlier interaction that had a much more profound effect on Richt’s life.


In his second season as a Florida State graduate assistant, Richt watched how Bowden handled the death of a Florida State player.


He spoke about heaven and hell, and it had a profound impact on Richt. Bowden pointed to a chair where the player, Pablo Lopez, who was shot and killed, sat.


Bowden spoke to a player in the seat next to where Lopez sat and said: “If that was you last night, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”


“Coach Bowden talked about his own faith, where he had assurance of salvation, eternal life with Christ in heaven,” Richt said in 2003. “When he said that I was like, ‘I don’t know.' I wanted that peace. So, the next day I went into his office, and he led me to the Lord right there.”


In turn, Richt spoke openly about his relationship with Christ throughout his coaching career. There are many others Bowden impacted in their careers on the field and in their faith.


Former Florida State quarterback, and 1993 Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward said: “Coach Bowden was a blessing to every person he came in contact with because of his heart to be like Jesus Christ.


“He wasn’t shy about sharing his faith with others no matter the backlash from people. Being at a state university and sharing your faith openly to your players and coaches is not normal. but he knew that was the right thing to do. I appreciate it!”


Former Florida State safety Myron Rolle, who was a Rhodes Scholar and now is a neurosurgeon, said of Bowden: “When he recruited me, he promised my family that he’d support me as a football player and as a student. He helped all of us be better men, leaders, and Christians.”


Former Florida State and NFL quarterback Brad Johnson said: “Coach Bowden shared his faith with all! He cared about each one of us as players on and off the field. He inspired many of us to become great fathers, leaders, and coaches in our own communities. He showed class and humility in all that he did.”


Former Florida quarterback, and 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, Chris Weinke, said: “I am blessed, grateful and a better man because Coach Bowden was a part of my life. He was a true leader and a man of strong faith that never wavered. He has been the single greatest influence and made the biggest impact in my life. He was way more than a coach to me. He was a friend and the greatest human being I have ever met.”


North Carolina assistant coach and former Florida State coach John Lilly was impressed with how Bowden always kept his priorities in check.


"He always cared more about people than he did what they could do for him. In coaching it’s easy at times to get caught up trying to stack wins, achievements, awards, money, etc.,” Lilly said. “He never got caught in that trap. In coaching, and likely in any endeavor in life, we all need someone who believes in us, has faith in us and will give us a chance or a break.


“Coach Bowden gave me a great opportunity in this profession and completely changed my life. I’d venture to say the stories of those whose lives he changed are too numerous to count. He made himself available to be used by the Lord in mighty ways on this earth and now he is hearing “well done my good and faithful servant.’ ”


Lilly is referring to Matthew 25:23, near the end of the parable of the bags gold, where the master replies:


“ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things … I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ ”


God entrusts us with our time, heart, mind, and skills. We’re to use them – until we take our last breath – for the glory of His kingdom. Bowden’s life, legacy, and death should remind each of us to give it our all while we are on earth until the good Lord brings each of us home.


Brad Zimanek is the Pastor at Gulfview United Methodist Church in Panama City Beach, Florida. He worked in sports journalism for 32 years prior to answering the call to full-time ministry in 2019.

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