A conversation with Tom Bowen

It's been a little over four years since Tom Bowen resurrected an almost extinct San Jose State football program. At a recent spring practice, Bowen talked to Inside Sparta about his finest accomplishment-to-date, and some of the future plans.

The first thing one notices when talking with San Jose State Athletic Director Tom Bowen is that he is passionate, enthusiastic and excited about what his administration has done, and the plans that are yet to come. Inside Sparta had a conversation with Bowen at a recent spring football practice. While Bowen is in charge of the entire athletic department, which encompasses 16 NCAA teams, along with support staff, cheer squad, and facilities. Our talk focused primarily on football and Spartan Stadium.

Bowen came to SJSU in December of 2004 after a three-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers as director of community affairs and the executive director of the 49ers Foundation. Many hoped, but nobody knew, that this would be the "Winter of our Discontent" for San Jose State athletics. Prior to Bowen's arrival rumors were rampant that the football program would slide to a lower division or be dismantled completely, just as the famed SJSU track program had been cut in 1988. Unlike "Speed City", however, the football program found its savior in the new Athletic Director, who was brought in by then-president Don Kassing.

In the four-plus years since Bowen took the helm, the athletic programs have seen an unprecidented resurgance. One of the first things Bowen did was bring in veteran head coach Dick Tomey. Tomey kept Keith Burns, Charles Nash, and Kenwick Thompson (who has since moved on) from the previous staff, then brought in his own crew. In 2006 the football program had its first winning season in 13 years and went to, and won, its first bowl game since 1990. In 2005 the student attendance for the entire season was just over 800. For the first game of the 2006 season over 1000 students came to see the Spartans defeat Eastern Washington 35-24.

The crown-jewel of San Jose State athletics is Spartan Stadium, home to the football team since 1933. The field at Spartan Stadium is currently undergoing a conversion from natural grass to Field Turf, a synthetic surface that closely resembles grass but is easier to maintain - and beautiful. Bowen was especially proud of the work now going on, and how it came to be. "This is my crowning acheivement so far," he said. "The State of California paid for the entire project, it didn't cost San Jose State a dime. I was able to get the money before they started cutting back on funds available to the schools."

Bowen is also proud of the program that will play on that new field. When talking specifically about the football program he said his main goal was to bring in the kind of games that will attract fans. "We need to fill the stadium," he said. "To do so we need to bring in quality opponents. My predecessor was interested in scheduling big away games for the paycheck. While we will certainly continue to do that, we want those teams to come visit us."

Spartan Stadium will see a marquis visitor in the 2009 football season as San Jose State hosts 2008 BCS No. 2 Utah on Sept. 12. Bowen said the game was scheduled four years ago, when Utah wasn't at the level it now enjoys. "They've tried to get out of the game twice," he said. "I won't let them, we want to play them. We're going to have a quality team this year and this will be a the kind of game we want to bring to the fans. This game will be a sellout."

He wouldn't get into specifics regarding future opponents, but said they are in negotiations with other programs to get them to come to San Jose. "Scheduling is everything," he said. He did say that one of the proposals they are using is to get a two-for-one deal with opponents, whereby San Jose State would play two games at the opponent's venue, with one return engagement at Spartan Stadium.

SJSU Director Tom Bowen said that one of the plans in the works is to install lights in the Spartan Practice facility
Bowen touched on several other improvements now in the plans. "We're going to put lights here on the practice field," he said. "We're also going to put lights at Blethen Field." Blethen Field is the South Campus home of SJSU baseball.

Spartan Village, the old campus housing area ajacent to the Spartan Practice Field, was closed in 2005 when the Campus Village opened on the main campus. The buildings were recently demolished and the land remians unused. "We're still talking with the City about a joint soccer complex for that land, but we don't really know what's going to happen there," Bowen said.

Most, if not all, athletic directors delegate the nitty-gritty work, such as recriuiting, to subordinates. Not the SJSU AD "I'm the athletic director that recruits," he said. "I talk to recruits personally, no other school that I know of does that. They all have an assistant AD talk to kids. I ask parents, when they come to visit, what other school has allowed them to talk directly to the Athletic Director. Nobody has."

He also isn't averse to pounding the pavement to get the word out to students, many of which are the famed, and infamous, "commuter" type who are simply here to get their education and move on. "I'm going to walk to 7th and 10th Street Garages talking to these students about the games," he said. "I'll be telling them who is playing and that they, as students, get in for free!"

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Don Hoekwater is the Publisher of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at publisher@insidesparta.com

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