Climbing the charts

It's a topic of conversation that will only increase in volume as the season draws closer. Can Bobby Bowden overtake Joe Paterno this season on the all-time coaching victories list? Click here to read Bowden's thoughts on the subject. Bowden is also eager to get the Seminoles back among the nation's elite after last season's struggles. "It wasn't any fun but we were so thankful to end up on a winning note. We had so many records gone. ...the only approach I know is let's start over," he said.

Bobby Bowden earned his master's degree in education so he could become an assistant football coach at Howard College in Birmingham in 1953. Nearly 50 years later, Bowden's coaching legend continues to grow. He embarks on yet another season at Florida State University with the enthusiasm and vigor of a first-year head coach.

"He's a guy that any of us in the profession should try and emulate and follow," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said.

"I once wrote a note to coach Bowden. I've admired him so much since I got into the coaching profession in 1975. He does such a fabulous job of representing all of us in college coaching, on and off the field, through wins and losses -- there haven't been many losses, mostly wins -- but he's a guy to me who has a great passion for what he does. He has a great influence on young people's lives and his energy and enthusiasm seems to be of a guy that might be 30 years old. I watch it and I see it and have admired it many, many years."

The years and victories continue to pile up for the 72-year-old Bowden, who is entering his 27th season at FSU. Bowden is currently tied with Paul "Bear" Bryant on the all-time Division I-A coaching victories list at 323, four behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. Discussions have already started in earnest and only will increase in volume as the regular season approaches: Can Bowden overtake Paterno this season? FSU opens its season against McCarney's Cyclones in the Eddie Robinson Classic in Kansas City, Aug. 24.

Of course, Robinson, whose entire 55-season coaching career was spent at Grambling, is the winningest coach in college football history with 408 victories (405-157-15). Robinson is also noted for sending more than 200 players to the pros, including four Pro Football Hall of Famers. Bowden makes it a point to credit Robinson's remarkable achievement.

"We keep talking about Bear Bryant and Coach Paterno and that streak, but gosh, Eddie is so far out (in front)," Bowden said. "I think sometimes myself that, 'Gee, what if you happen to won more." Well, I'd still say, 'Bowden, you are still second place.' Eddie Robinson is No. 1."

Still, there's no downplaying Bowden's accomplishments, especially at FSU, where he is 250-59-4 -- that includes a 133-18-2 record at home and a 117-41-2 mark on the road. What makes Bowden so unique is that he has managed to keep his humble, gracious approach. Remember, Howard won a combined three games during Bowden's two seasons as an assistant. Bowden laughs and says he learned a lot from that experience, and his approach hasn't changed over the years.

Bowden simply loves to compete.

"I don't care -- it's all relative to me," Bowden said of the all-time victories list. "I get asked so many times. What's it mean to you? You know, it's not a goal. It's never been a goal of mine and I don't know of any coach that enters college football with the goal of winning more games than anybody else. That's just something that comes up. That's just something that happens. Next year will be my 50th year of coaching college football and with that, I get my name in the paper like those other guys."

Of course, Bowden and FSU were the paper plenty last season, and the talk wasn't all that flattering thanks to an 8-4 season. The Seminoles also were reduced to second-tier status in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league they dominated the previous nine seasons. Plus, rivals Miami and Florida bounced FSU, outscoring the 'Noles 86-40.

It goes without saying Bowden is eager to change that tone this season. In fact, he's not the bit uncomfortable with his team being ranked No. 1 by Athlon's preseason magazine. Bowden challenged his players to be better prepared physically for a grueling 13-game regular season.

"Our goal is to win every ball game and win the national championship," Bowden said.

"I think we've been preseason No. 1 in somebody's poll, this might be the seventh time since about 1988 when we were picked first in '88 but got beat 33-0. The next time we were preseason No. 1, we might have won it. You got to learn how to handle it. You can't hide from it. To win a national championship you got to go out there and do it anyway. We get to where we kind of like that. Last year, of course, we were picked down the line and ended up down the line. We don't like that as much as getting after it."

Even so, Bowden admits he was actually grateful the Seminoles were able to steady themselves and finish with consecutive victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. The program was able to survive numerous setbacks and, despite questions on defense this season, appears focused to regain its status among the nation's elite.

"It wasn't any fun but we were so thankful to end up on a winning note," Bowden said. of last season.

"Naturally, it wasn't much fun. But it was one of these years where you go into and you just lost 15 starters from the year before. Some of them three-year starters like (Chris) Weinke). Some of them four-year starters like (Travis) Minor. Starters that had taken you to three straight national championship ballgames. So, you lose all those guys and all of a sudden you get about five other guys injured and you start trying to be realistic about the doggone thing. I told my boosters when I spoke at their banquets this year I say, 'Hey, I am having hard a time apologizing for an 8-4 (record).' And I really mean it when I look at it on paper. We had so many doggone records gone. We had so many records gone it was unbelievable. The only approach I know is let's start over."

Bowden also believes the parity in college football makes it difficult for repeat national champions. While times have certainly changed since Bowden burst on the scene nearly 50 years ago, there's no denying his success.

"You know their crazy. Their crazy. They don't understand. They don't want to accpet that," a laughing Bowden said of fans who expect perfection. "The parity thing is going to get you. The parity thing now is going to make it much more difficult for anybody to get out there and dominate this darn thing. That's why you see the emergence of Virginia Tech and Iowa State and Oregon who 15 years ago you didn't see."

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