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Bobby Bowden, legendary Florida State head football coach, passes away at 91

The two-time national championship-winning head coach led Florida State for 34 years. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness earlier this summer.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Robert “Bobby” Bowden, the fourth all-time winningest coach in college football history, has succumbed to a long-time illness, his family has announced. The former Florida State head coach and Birmingham, Alabama, native was 91.

Following July’s announcement that Bowden had a terminal illness, his son, UL-Monroe head coach Terry Bowden, confirmed that the elder Bowden had been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer.

"There's a spiritual side of me that thanks God for all the good times I've had with my father," Bowden told the (Monroe) News-Star. "We've known for a couple weeks that it was terminal. As it gets closer, we're thankful that it hasn't been a difficult or painful process for him.”

“I’ve always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” Bowden said in a statement released to news outlets in July. “My wife Ann and our family have been life’s greatest blessing. I am at peace.”

Bobby Bowden led Florida State from 1976 to 2009. He led the Noles to the 1993 and 1999 national championships, as well as 12 Atlantic Coast Conference Championships. Under Bowden, the Noles finished in the top-five of the Associated Press poll for 14 consecutive seasons. Bowden’s all-time coaching record stands at 377-129-4, second only to Penn State’s Joe Paterno among Division I institutions. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. His final game in 2009 came in Jacksonville at the Gator Bowl, a win over Bowden’s former team, West Virginia, in Florida State’s 28th straight bowl appearance.

The Alabama-native graduated from what is now known as Samford University in 1952 after a stand-out career as a quarterback and running back. He then served as an assistant coach and head track and field coach at Samford, then known as Howard College, from 1954-1955. He returned to Samford as the head football coach following a stint at South Georgia College in 1959, compiling a record of 31-6. 

In 1962, Bowden first made the journey to Florida State University, serving as an assistant coach under Bill Peterson until 1965. He served as an assistant under Jim Carlen at West Virginia for four seasons until succeeding Carlen as head coach in 1969. Bowden went 42-26 at West Virginia before returning to FSU in 1976 as the head football coach.

Bowden took over a Noles program that had gone 4-29 over the three previous seasons. The Noles went 9-2 in Bowden’s second year. That first season in 1976 – in which the Noles went 5-6 – would prove to be the only losing season in Bowden’s tenure in Tallahassee; FSU did not have another losing season until 2018 under Willie Taggart. From 1987 to 2000, Florida State won at least 10 games each year.

Bowden is survived by his childhood sweetheart, Ann Estock, his two daughters Ginger and Robyn, and his four sons: Terry, Tommy, Jeff, and Steve. Bobby and Ann celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in April of 2019. They have lived in the same house in Killearn Estates that they first moved into in 1976, when Bobby became Florida State’s head coach.

A memorial service is planned for later this week in Tallahassee with details to follow.

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