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Carving His Own Legacy : Terry Bowden Gets Out of the Gate With a Record 18 Straight Victories

October 23, 1994|DON MARKUS | THE BALTIMORE SUN

Terry Bowden spoke with his father, Bobby, twice last week: once after faxing him the game plan two days before Auburn was to play then-top-ranked Florida in Gainesville and again on Saturday.

During halftime of his team's 36-33 upset win, the younger Bowden telephoned the family's home in Tallahassee. Bobby Bowden, whose Florida State team was off last week, had watched the Tigers take a 22-14 lead.

"I called him from the locker room," the younger Bowden recalled Tuesday, "and he told me to keep doing what we were doing."

What Terry Bowden has done since being hired to replace Pat Dye in December 1992 is not only remarkable, but also unprecedented in Division I-A college football history. Taking over a program that was headed for two years of NCAA sanctions, Bowden has won 18 straight without losing.

In the process, Bowden has broken the NCAA record of 11 straight victories to start a career, set by former Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer, whose Sooners went 27-0-2 before losing. Bowden's most recent win also broke the Auburn school record of 17 straight.

"I've got to be honest with you, I have yet to feel any pressure as a coach because of the streak," said Bowden, 38. "It's our streak, it's not somebody else's. If you carried on someone else's streak, then maybe you'd feel the pressure.

"The other thing is that it's a great local streak. It's not like it's approaching any national record and we're on the front page every day. Last week's game against the No. 1 team in the country was only on regional television. I think the biggest pressure is going to come now that we've beaten the No. 1 team."

In fact, Auburn's winning streak could be one of the most obscure ever, accomplished with little fanfare until last weekend. Though the sanctions that included no television appearances last year and no bowl games last year and this year likely will prevent the Tigers from being ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll--they only went from sixth to fourth after beating the Gators--it hasn't hurt Bowden's growing reputation as one of the country's best coaches.

Bowden's debut season, in which the Tigers came from behind eight times to win, helped silence the critics who believed he was hired more for his bloodlines and marquee value than his resume. Many of those were former Dye supporters who felt the longtime Auburn coach resigned unnecessarily, despite a laundry list of NCAA violations involving Dye's assistants and the team's boosters.

"When we hired Terry, I got a number of calls from people who thought we were out of our minds," said Mike Lude, the now-retired Auburn athletic director. "But after we started winning, some of the same people called me to say what a genius I was."

Lude, a former coach at Colorado State and athletic director at the University of Washington, said that Bowden's upbringing and his father's success certainly played a factor in the decision.

"As a coach, I used to love to recruit coach's sons, because you never had to tell them to work hard," said Lude. "There was no question that he had a tremendous amount of energy and a great work ethic.

"When other kids were playing with fire trucks, he was probably sitting on Bobby's lap watching game film. He was the right man for the right job at the right time. It was not a hard decision."

On the surface, it appears as if Bowden has come out of nowhere--virtually overnight.

But the reality is that he had spent more than a decade preparing for the spotlight, from his years as a graduate assistant for his father at Florida State through head coaching stints at Salem (West Va.) College and Samford.

"I've had 10 years of coaching mistakes, but I didn't have to do it in front of a national audience," he said.

Bowden's career as a head coach actually began with another streak: After leaving Tallahassee for Salem, an NAIA school of 700 students, Bowden, then 26, inherited a team that was coming off an 0-10 season.

"I kept it going," said Bowden. "We were 0-7 my first seven games. My first wife left me after the sixth game. I remember the people saying, 'He's definitely not a chip off the old block.' I was doubting myself. You talk about pressure. There were more than a few people who wondered if I could be a head coach, including me."

Bobby Bowden recalled thinking during Terry's first year as a head coach that "he was going to wake up and go into the real world." But he also offered words of encouragement, reminding Terry of the growing pains he had suffered.

"One of his favorite sayings is a program is built in four stages," said Terry Bowden. "First you lose big, then you lose close. Then you win close, and finally you win big."

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