Bobby Bowden, Who Led FSU To Be A Football Powerhouse, Dies At 91 Bobby Bowden won 377 games in his career, including two national titles, and took the Florida State University Seminoles to post-season bowl games in 27 consecutive years.

Bobby Bowden, One Of College Football's Winningest Coaches Ever, Dies

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A college football legend has died. Bobby Bowden won more games than nearly any other head coach during his 57-year career. For 34 seasons, he led the Florida State Seminoles, turning the Tallahassee school into a football powerhouse. Bowden was 91. NPR's Greg Allen reports that during his career, Bowden claimed two national titles and 40 winning seasons.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: At West Virginia, where Bobby Bowden coached before Florida State, a bumper sticker said Beat Pitt, an interstate rival. As the story goes, when he arrived in Tallahassee, the bumper sticker said Beat Anybody. His first season at Florida State was tough, with more losses than wins. When he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, he recalled the game against Oklahoma, which had just won 18 straight. He met Coach Barry Switzer at mid-field for the customary handshake.

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BOBBY BOWDEN: He wants to think of something nice to say, and he says - he saw our kids warming up. He said, boy, that - those kids look - oh, look at them. How do they do that? Boy, your coaches really do a good job with them. I said, coach, I'll swap my coaches for your players.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Bowden said that 1977, his second year of Florida State, was his favorite year coaching. After their losing season, the Seminoles won 10 games and were ranked 14th in the nation. It marked a major turnaround for the team.

Bowden was born in Birmingham, Ala., and did his first coaching there at Howard College, now Samford University. In Tallahassee, he quickly turned a lackluster program into a perennial national contender. When he arrived at Florida State, Bowden said in 2011, the school had trouble enrolling enough students to fill its dorms.

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BOWDEN: Four years later, we're undefeated. We're playing our first major bowl. You know what? We're nationally ranked for the first time in 20 years.

ALLEN: The next spring, Bowden said, 5,000 students applied to FSU, double the number that could be accepted.

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BOWDEN: Just because our football team had been successful and had been on national television and gotten into a major bowl. Our president said that.

ALLEN: In Tallahassee, Bowden was revered. Elsewhere, fans of rival schools complained his down-home and aw-shucks manner was the face of a program that protected star athletes and helped them cut corners academically. For years, when they were both coaching, Bowden was in a race with Penn State's Joe Paterno to see who would register the most career victories. But in 2010, the NCAA investigated an academic scandal at FSU, which ended with Bowden vacating 12 wins. That left him second to Paterno with 377 career wins. Among Bowden's achievements, he was the first coach in NCAA history to take his team to post-season bowl games in 27 consecutive seasons.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The garnet and gold of Florida State and their great, all-America Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, the quarterback.

ALLEN: At the Orange Bowl in 1994, Charlie Ward and the Seminole team beat Nebraska to claim its first national title. It was the first of two under Bowden. Ward was back in Tallahassee when Bowden received an award from Florida's governor. He talked about Bowden as a coach and a role model.

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CHARLIE WARD: How much his godly attitude, lifestyle played in shaping who I was as a player and as a person.

ALLEN: Bowden talked a lot about his Christian faith, speaking often to religious groups. He was an entertaining speaker, self-deprecating while at the same time clearly proud of his legacy. In 2013, three years after his retirement, Florida State students and fans packed an arena to honor Bowden. He was asked how his teams were able to win so many games.

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BOWDEN: You look back and you say, how in the world did it happen? It might have been coaching.

(LAUGHTER)

ALLEN: Three of Bowden's sons followed him into football to carry on his legacy as college coaches. Greg Allen, NPR News.

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