AUBURN, Ala. — Less than 72 hours before Auburn held on for a 22-17 road victory over Mississippi in the 1994 opener, Terry Bowden is wired up and waiting in an Auburn studio. Via satellite, he is about to do a live shot with WBMG-TV in Birmingham about 110 miles to the northwest. When the newscast goes to a commercial, Bowden greets sports director Doug Bell, and the news comes through Bowden's earpiece that Bell's 10-month-old son, Brooks, already is 28 inches long.
Bowden, the 38-year-old Auburn coach, brightens. Remember where you should send your son to play football, he says. "Who's going to be the football coach at Alabama in 16 years?" Bowden asks Bell. Bell's answer can't be heard in the studio, but after a pause, Bowden says: "I don't know, either. Now, who's going to be the football coach at Auburn in 16 years?" Another pause. "That's right. I am."
After the commercial, the interview lasts 10 minutes. A television news consultant would be horrified at that extravagance, but the passion for football in Alabama outstrips the need for a quick talk with a coach and then a cute segue into the Pet of the Week. The interview was a hastily arranged favor for the Birmingham station, so when he finishes, Bowden is late, and he is on the run. You aren't around him long before you figure out Bowden can seem on the run when he's sitting down. He's like a VCR with the PLAY and FAST FORWARD buttons engaged and the sound audible.
Across the street from the studio, the Tigers' 15 seniors are waiting in vehicles outside the football offices. Bowden races through his office, grabs his briefcase and keys, jumps into his four-wheel drive that is 'Bama-red--"My car dealer is in Birmingham, and he has a sense of humor," he says--and pulls around to the front of the building to lead the caravan to his house.
A few minutes later, the seniors are filing past and looking down at their 5-foot-6 coach, going through the double doors, into the new brick home designed by Bowden's wife, Shyrl. For the next 15 minutes, they get a tour, noticing such things as a copy of Bobby Bowden's book on the nightstand; the still-knotted Auburn blue and orange tie Terry wore throughout the 1993 season; coach-of-the-year awards from 1993; the fishing boat in the garage; and the combined big-screen TV, stereo and sound system that makes it seem as if we should have paid $7 at the door and $11.50 for popcorn and a Coke.
Out on the deck, overlooking a small man-made lake, the steaks are cooked and waiting. Bowden turns serious and talks to the seniors who have a bona fide shot at going undefeated in their final two seasons.
Just wanted to have you guys out here because you're the seniors, you've been the leaders, you're special. Not going to kid you, guys, you know we can have a better team than last season--regardless of whether that means an everything-broke-right undefeated season can be repeated or whether we'll lose a game. Or two. But whatever happens, you're going to work hard.
A year into his tenure, Terry Bowden can say with considerable credibility that he expects to be at Auburn when that broadcaster's 10-month-old son is ready for college. He is winning people over in his efforts to revive the Tigers' program and improve its soiled image. More important, he is winning. The Tigers again have their sights on a national championship despite being on NCAA probation. And they have a solid chance to enter their Oct. 15 game against Florida (ranked No. 3 in this week's TSN poll) still undefeated.
Bowden has a new, five-year contract with a provision for an annual rollover. It represents security in a tenuous business for a man who, after studying at Oxford (England, not Mississippi) and getting a law degree while serving as a graduate assistant at Florida State, seemingly had other options. ("I thought he'd be smart enough to go into something else," jokes his father, Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden.) He has received high marks for his offensive ingenuity, using the framework of Florida State's system. If he leaves, he--or someone--would have to buy out five years of his contract, so it has watered down speculation that he is in line to succeed his 64-year-old father at Florida State.
Bowden has talked like an Auburn man of the past, present and future, and you get the feeling he has studied all those Auburn legends--such as the alleged Civil War-related genesis of that famous "War Eagle" rallying call. He has hit on the gimmick of coming up with season slogans that include the school's initials, and thus Auburn is selling buttons by the thousands. (Last year, it was AttitUde; this season it is AU-dacity.)