Called “the winningest coach in college football history,” Bobby Bowden is also one of the more outspoken figures in the sports world. In The Bowden Dynasty, which arrives on DVD this week, his journey to his tenure as head football coach at Florida State University is highlighted as well as his evangelical heart.
The sports documentary, which premiered in theaters as a Fathom event in January, features Bowden along with Deion Sanders, Burt Reynolds, Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban and Mark Richt, who Bowden had a spiritual impact on when they coached together.
In a recent interview for Reel Faith, Coach Bowden spoke about the documentary and what hopes his legacy will be. Also check out the podcast at the end of the article for our exclusive audio from the interview.
When did you first have the idea or when did someone else present the idea about doing a movie about your life?
John Corey is the one who did this thing. John went to Florida State. I think was there during ‘the dynasty,’ I think he was finishing up about the time the dynasty came apart. He approached me about doing this. He wanted to produce it, and had done other documentaries that had been highly successful. He asked me if I would do it and I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be glad to.’ He has directed the whole thing. All I have done is answer yes or no or try to do everything he wanted to do.
Was there any hesitation to put everything up there on screen?
No, because I liked the way he approached it. I liked the way he tried to use what I said and not what he thought I said and I liked that.
Did you feel it was a good representation of your life?
I thought it was a great job. I had no idea. My first thought was, ‘Why would anybody want to watch me?’ That’s the first thing you think of. He kept saying, ‘Gosh, we’re getting good reviews and want to have it in so many cities.’ I couldn’t believe it. Then he showed me a copy and I was really excited.
The film focuses on your humble beginnings as a kid growing up reading comic books and now you had a successful run and now there will be so many going to a theater to see your life.
I’m naturally flattered by it. There’s no way I could have envisioned this happening. John made it happen. I’m excited and again, I just hope it plays a great role as far as young people doing the right thing.
And your story still has an opportunity to impact people on a spiritual level as well.
It seems like that God has answered your prayer to use you through football.
Isn’t that amazing? I can remember exactly where I was sitting when I said that prayer. My mother was in the room and she asked me, “Do you believe in prayer?” She knew I did, because she raised me to. I said yes, and I prayed that prayer to God. God has always done His part, I’ve failed on my part many times.
If someone’s coming up wanting to be a leader, sports or otherwise, what advice would you give them?
I used to get that question a lot when I was a head coach. I’d have parents call me that didn’t know me, I’d have mothers call me that didn’t have a husband. ‘Coach, I’ve got a son who’s 13, 14 years old, what can I tell him to be successful?’ I used to get that letter a lot, I used to get that phone call a lot. I would tell them the same thing, ‘Tell you son to get his priorities in order. Tell him to make God his number one priority. Tell him to make his family his number two priority. Tell him to make other people his number three priority. That’s the hardest one to do. Somewhere along the line, football or baseball or music comes in, whatever he likes. Be sure to get his priorities in order.’ ‘What do you mean God as number one priority?’ ‘You tell that boy not to do anything unless he thinks God would want him to do it.’
There were ups and downs after losses, times when you family felt beat up on. What are some of the things that got you through those times?
I think it was faith, and that’s why faith is so important. A belief in a being higher than anybody that can do anything that wants to see you succeed. I think that’s where your faith comes in.
When you shared the gospel in very public settings, such as the locker room, it seems that you didn’t care about pushback.
I always felt that was my calling. God had put me in this position to make this stand. So I tried to do that. I never caught heck about it. It’s amazing. I kept waiting on someone to call and say, ‘You can’t do that.’
The last line of The Bowden Dynasty is about your legacy and, surprisingly, it’s not to be remembered as a good coach.
Everybody wants you to say, ‘He was such a good coach.’ No, that’s way down the line. I just hope I’m doing what God wants me to do.
What’s a highlight or two in the movie or your life?
I think one that stands out in the movie was Mark Richt, who coached my quarterbacks, accepted Christ as His savior in my office and committed his life to Christ. Right now, he’s one of the finest Christian men I’ve ever met. That’s one of my highlights.
Burt Reynolds spoke highly of you in the documentary. Did he play for you?
No, I finished college in 52. Burt, I think about 54 was his last year, he tore his knee up. He started as a freshman, got out of it and tried to come back and then he went into acting. That’s where he got his start. He loved Florida State football and still does.
For more information, visit the film’s website.