Bowden Legacy: Bitterness, Vindictiveness and Lies

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes another look at former Auburn coach Terry Bowden.

From a journalistic standpoint, it was disgusting. Since Terry Bowden is a studio college football analyst on ABC, the network clearly felt it had little choice but to address the controversy caused by his tape-recorded remarks that Auburn boosters were providing money to pay football players when he arrived in 1993. For major national news organization to go about it the way it did should be an embarrassment.

It was a show that would have been more appropriate on Broadway. It was staged from start to finish, starring Bowden as the whistle-blowing victim. I'll give Bowden credit. He played his role well. John Saunders, Craig James and ABC New reporter John Berman should be nominated for awards as supporting actors. The curtain came up on Saunders, Bowden and James at halftime of the Florida State-Colorado game. Saunders mentioned the two-year-old "off-the-record" interview in which Bowden said Auburn was committing violations and he cleaned it up. Then came Berman's "interview" with Bowden and maybe the most bizarre question I've ever heard.

After pointing out that Bowden had signed documents that he knew of no NCAA violations, Berman asked the following question: "If Auburn had been in violation of NCAA policy while you were coach there, would you be lying by signing those documents?"

Bowden: "Yes, I would have been lying."

Berman: "Did you lie when you were coach at Auburn?"

Bowden: "I would say there are certain things that under contract, legal agreement, I can't talk about."

The cameras went back to the studio, where Bowden was playing his role as victim to the hilt with the help of Saunders and James. James, one of the more talented, respected and knowledgeable college football analysts around, joined right in. "You are sitting here because of it," James said to Bowden. "You had a standard and you were living to that standard, and that standard got you a seat here."

Standards? Give me a break. My standards say I wouldn't sign my name to a statement I knew wasn't true, much less doing it nine times. My standards say some things are more important than money. The problem here--as with all people who lie--is knowing what to believe. If a man will sign his name to numerous statements he now claims were lies, what else will he lie about? The bottom line is that his word is no good.

Saunders, who has been in the ABC studio with Bowden for five years, no doubt felt compelled to stand with his friend. I'll give James the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't know any better since Saturday was his first day in the ABC studio. Berman, if he is a serious newsman, surely must have been embarrassed to be thrust into such a journalistic wasteland.

Were players being paid when Bowden arrived? I don't know. Will we ever know? Probably not. What I do know is that such "standards" had nothing to do with Bowden's departure from Auburn. It should be remembered that Bowden was not fired. He walked out on his players and on his assistant coaches at midseason because he was angry. Would he have been fired at the end of the season? Probably. The program was in a severe downward spiral. Every year, coaches finish seasons they know will be their last because they have real standards and loyalty to those who play and work for them. Bowden didn't. It was all about him.

Auburn has taken a beating since the interview Bowden said was off the record went public last week. The worst part of that is a lot of good people get dirty when the mud starts flying. It will pass. Any NCAA action is extremely unlikely. The statute of limitations has long passed. Anything that happened before Bowden's arrival was part of the investigation that landed Auburn on probation in 1993. That can't be revisited.

Where does Auburn go from here? Does it demand $620,000 from Bowden as it seems to have a right to do under the agreement signed on May 17, 2002? It's possible, but I doubt it. When Bowden's first Auburn team went 11-0 in 1993, it was one of the great accomplishments in Auburn football history. One would have thought that would be Bowden's legacy. Instead, he will be remembered for bitterness, vindictiveness and lies.

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