Bowen, who spent six years in a seminary before embarking on a career in sports administration, is seeking out students, alumni and the community at large to help him create a ``Culture of Champions'' at SJSU.
Those who know Bowen, including Santa Clara Athletic Director Dan Coonan, say SJSU has chosen the right person to resurrect a dilapidated athletic department.
``He's like the Tommy Lasorda kind of coach, speaking to people and riling them up with his rhetoric,'' said Coonan, whose brother Terry is one of Bowen's good friends. ``He'll be a great motivator and bring out the best in people and get them pulling in the same direction.''
Boosters say that type of leadership has been lacking at SJSU for years, resulting in the deterioration of its most visible programs, football and men's basketball. Now, with Bowen at the helm -- and SJSU interim president Don Kassing fully behind him -- alumni are hoping for a return to what used to be.
``I hear all the time about the glory days of Spartan athletics,'' said Bowen, who played high school football at Moreau High in Hayward and attended Notre Dame. ``Now I have to create a new generation of those glory days.''
If he succeeds, it won't be the first time. It was during Bowen's tenure as athletic director at De La Salle that the Catholic high school began its ascension as a national football power. Bowen had come to the Concord school in 1987 after leaving the seminary.
``My whole premise was to teach and coach as a priest,'' Bowen said. ``When I left the seminary, my love for teaching and coaching never went away.''
After spending two years as an associate athletic director at St. Mary's and another two at Cal, Bowen joined the 49ers in 2002 as the director for fundraising and community affairs. SJSU hired him Dec. 20.
Bowen's first task was to find someone who could resurrect a football program that has had just one winning season in the past 12 years. With the help of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, an SJSU alumnus, Bowen hired Dick Tomey, who ranks eighth in career victories among active coaches. (SJSU's most vociferous supporters are lauding the hire.)
``I'd be amazed if they don't have a winning season,'' said Pete Silva, a longtime fundraiser for SJSU athletics.
Landing a coach was the easy part. Filling the stands at Spartan Stadium will be much more difficult. SJSU's average attendance last season was 6,468, the worst among 117 Division I-A programs, an indication of how frustrated boosters had become. To change that, Bowen is asking alumni and students to attend just one game, the season opener against Eastern Washington on Sept. 3, in an effort to sell out Spartan Stadium.
``Instead of saying `buy your season tickets,' we're asking people to come see what we are,'' Bowen said. ``Come see what we look like. If you like it, come back.''
To increase student attendance -- home games rarely draw more than 1,000 students -- Bowen and Tomey will pound the campus pavement and personally distribute the 5,000 tickets allotted to students.
``We need to go to the student population, the faculty and the administration and invite them to join us,'' Bowen said. ``It's up to us to engage our community and ask them to support us. I think they'll embrace it.''
Although football has commanded a lot of Bowen's time, he has also made a coaching change in men's basketball, firing Phil Johnson and replacing him with George Nessman.
But his work is hardly done.
Bowen needs to generate outside revenue, build ties with the campus and local community and mend relationships with former boosters who became disenchanted in recent years.
To that end, Bowen created a strategic plan titled ``The Next 100 Days,'' a detailed list of goals and philosophies the SJSU athletic department will focus on until May 28. From there, Bowen will create a master plan for the 2005-06 academic year. The agenda is detailed over three pages and available on the athletic department's Web site (sjsuspartans.com).
``I've seen more change in three months than in almost 30 years,'' said Andy Ghiggeri, a longtime booster and co-director of the annual scholarship fundraising drive. ``I've never seen the level of excitement this high. It's had a real ripple effect.''
Creating that type of buzz isn't easy. Bowen, who commutes from Danville, is in the office by 7 a.m. most days. His calendar is jammed with speaking engagements to potential business sponsors, alumni groups, rotary clubs and civic and business leaders.
Recently, Bowen and Tomey spoke to nine groups in five days.
``I've never seen a guy that talks to everybody,'' Ghiggeri said. ``He wows 'em. The enthusiasm and get-it-done attitude is there. It just permeates.''
Bowen also spends time on campus, hoping to repair the disconnect that has existed for years between the main campus and athletic department. (The athletic offices are two miles away from the main campus.) Bowen is insisting that his coaches also become fixtures on campus.
Bowen will be reaching out even further, planning to speak to alumni groups in Stockton, Sacramento and Los Angeles.
``He's been in a lot of different settings, and every place we've been, the sense we're getting is people appreciate and have a respect for his approach,'' Kassing said. ``There's a feeling by a large part of the campus that he can lead this.''