By virtue of the penalties handed down to Penn State and Joe Paterno on Monday, former FSU coach Bobby Bowden is now the NCAA Division I all-time wins leader in FBS with 377 victories.
By Jim Henry
Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat Assistant Sports Editor
QUINCY, Fla. — This wasn’t the way Bobby Bowden wanted to land atop the NCAA record book.
Not two-and-a-half years removed from the last game he coached at Florida State and at the expense of a scandal that has tarnished the legacy of a friend and coaching colleague.
“I wasn’t expecting it like this and didn’t want it to happen like this,” Bowden said Monday when reached by the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat. “Wish I could have earned it — but that is the way it is.”
Bowden, 82, was unaware of the unprecedented penalties levied by the NCAA against the Penn State football program when he stepped off the Golf Club of Quincy on Monday afternoon. He shook his head from side-to-side and reiterated his sadness for everyone involved in the Penn State scandal, including former Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno.
The NCAA’s punishment on Monday included vacating all of Penn State’s victories from 1988 through 2011, meaning Paterno loses 111 wins from what had been a total of 409 victories, the most all-time in major college football. The sanctions imposed on Penn State by the NCAA also included fines of $60 million, orders for the school to sit out the postseason for four years, a cap on scholarships at 20 below the normal limit for four years, and five years’ probation for the football program.
Bowden, who coached his final game at FSU on Jan. 1, 2010, in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia and then was forced into retirement, is now the winningest coach in major college football with 377 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision wins. Paterno went from first to 12th at 298.
Former Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson holds the record for Division I-AA Football Championship Subdivision wins with 408.
Paterno and Bowden were longtime friends and swapped the victories record many times as the coaching legends neared the ends of their careers.
Paterno coached Penn State until being fired last November. He died in January but continues to be chastised for his alleged role in concealing the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. Sandusky, a long-time assistant under Paterno at Penn State, was recently convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I really didn’t what to do it this way but I guess on paper that’s the way it is,” Bowden said. “I hate what happened to Penn State, but I hate more what happened to those young men. And I guess this is the way it ought to be.”
Bowden had 12 wins vacated by the NCAA due to an academic fraud scandal in FSU’s athletics department that involved multiple sports. Vacated wins, however, are not the same as forfeits; they don’t count as losses or wins for either school.
“When I left Florida State and they took 12 games away, I was like, ‘That’s that,’ " Bowden said. “Now here it is, something else happened and here I am, the leader going in. It might last me for my lifetime.”
Golfing partner Gene McDowell, a former player and assistant coach at FSU and former head coach at the University of Central Florida, was saddened by the Penn State situation --- but he also believes Bowden deserves to be atop the all-wins list.
“I am glad about that part of it -- he deserves to be first. It worked out,” McDowell said Monday. “But, let’s face it, they should have done something about the problem (at Penn State). We all know that.”
Tommy Bowden, one of Bowden’s three sons and former coach at Clemson, also expressed mixed emotions over the news.
“My father’s record speaks for itself,” Tommy Bowden told the Democrat from the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. “It’s my own father. How could I not be happy? I’ve got a dog in the hunt. But the victory thing right now just pales in comparison to the overall problem, and what happened to the victims.
“So it’s a muted joy.”
Bowden’s successor at Florida State, Jimbo Fisher, told The Associated Press on Monday that he believes his former mentor won’t revel in his new status.
“He won’t take any glory in doing that,” Fisher said. “He still has thoughts and prayers with the victims of the situation at Penn State.”
Bobby Bowden was critical of Paterno before and after the release recently of a scathing report that blasted Paterno and other Penn State officials. Bowden, like others, expected a harsh NCAA ruling. But he wasn’t concerned about becoming the all-time wins leader.
“It is something I thought, as far as my role was concerned, was over – that (I was going to finish in) second place,” Bowden said. “I guess on paper I have more wins than the rest of them. I don’t want people thinking I am glad that happened so I can do this. All the things that have happened aren’t worth it. Not worth it at all. I am thankful. I still know what I had and know what Joe had.”
Tommy Bowden agreed, saying the wins were earned on the field.
“He had junior college wins where he was the head coach and won,” Tommy Bowden said. “I’m sure other coaches have accumulated wins in other divisions, and they do the same thing. Their tombstones will have their number of victories, whether it’s high school, junior college or Division-I or whatever.”