In the history of collegiate football, only a handful of names are considered to be among the best ever. Among that elite group is Bobby Bowden, who came to Peabody in 1953 to earn a master’s degree so he could begin a coaching career—a career in which he logged more than 300 wins and won two national championships as head coach of the Florida State University Seminoles.
The road to Tallahassee and football fame for Bowden began at a small college in Birmingham, Ala., Howard College (now Samford University), and detoured through another small college in Nashville. “I graduated from Samford University in January of ’53,” he says. “They let me get out of school about a month early and enter Peabody about a month late to work on my master’s degree.”
“So many coaches went to Peabody that as I would travel through the Southern states recruiting, I’d run into many that I knew from school there.”
Peabody was a popular destination for coaches from throughout the South. “A lot of people at my school had graduated from Peabody,” Bowden says. “Our athletics director had gotten his master’s there. Our football coach had gotten his master’s there. They told me it was about the best teachers college in the South. So I got in there in January and finished in August.
“When I was there, there were hundreds of coaches. So many coaches that as I would travel through the Southern states recruiting, I’d run into many that I knew from school there.”
A master’s degree meant job security and a future in collegiate football for Bowden. “They told me that if I’d get my master’s degree, they’d give me a job. They’d hire me as assistant football coach and head track coach. So I had to have it. I really enjoyed Nashville, and I really enjoyed going over and watching Vanderbilt practice football. It was a good experience for me.”
Bowden’s career ascended as he served as head coach at South Georgia Junior College, Samford, West Virginia and Florida State. He cemented his legacy as coach of the Seminoles. He was named National Coach of the Year five times. His team was named the ESPN College Team of the Decade (any sport) in 1999, and he was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Since retiring from coaching, Bowden keeps busy by giving motivational speeches and promoting his autobiography, Called to Coach. “I spend most of my time making speeches. I speak two to five times a week. I’ve been all over the country, and Iraq, Israel—been everywhere.