It wasn’t long before James Chaney recalled some of his favorite moments with former Florida state head coach Bobby Bowden.
The head coach of Lehigh Senior, who played at FSU from 1988 to 91, had the chance to play four of Bowden’s 34-year tenure with the Seminoles under Bowden.
“It was so obvious that he was a special guy,” said Chaney. “From the way he recruited me to the way he interacted with my parents. I saw how he interacted and dealt with players and parents. It was a great time, when I was with him in Tallahassee.
“He was definitely a father figure, a mentor, and part of my coaching style comes from the way he coached me. It has had a huge impact on my professional and personal life.”
Bowden released a statement on an incurable medical condition Wednesday morning, first published by the Tallahassee Democrat. Bowden, 91, tested positive for COVID-19 late last year and failed to regain full strength after a five-day hospital stay in June.
“I have always tried to serve God’s purpose for my life, on and off the field, and I am prepared for what is to come,” the statement said. “My wife Ann and our family are the greatest blessings in life.
“I am at peace.”
Chaney thought of a time early in his career when he didn’t get a lot of playing time, and Bowden noticed this despite his hard work in daily training.
“We went into the dining room and you saw your name on a piece of paper on a clipboard and it said, ‘James Chaney, see Coach Bowden,'” said Chaney. “When that happened, your ass was usually in trouble. But I went to him and he told me to come in, close the door in his office and he said, ‘Hey James, I noticed you …” You don’t come out on the field that often. What’s wrong? I see you training and playing every day. Do I have to talk to Chuck Amato about it? “And I said,” No coach, just let it play. I don’t want anyone to think of favoritism or anything. “And he said,” I wanted to let you know that you are doing a good job. I notice you. “
“That he came from him, that he pulled my little old self into the office, made my whole life. Not soon after that I was a starter and was a team captain in my senior year. I owe it all to his mentorship and how he kept it. ” Employees together, the entire organization and the university together. “
Chaney also recalled the times he met Bowden after graduation and worked in the hospitality industry before moving to education and high school football.
“I probably ran into Coach Bowden four or five times after college,” said Chaney. “Coach Bowden never forgot my name or my parents ‘names when I met him. He really cares about making everyone feel special, remembering names, remembering your parents’ names 25 years after you left It’s hard for me to remember someone’s name 30 minutes after I met her. Coach Bowden really valued that. “
A plane trip to Pensacola in the early ’90s was when Chaney realized something big then, and it had nothing to do with wins and losses.
“I remember once taking a trip for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” said Chaney. “We flew to Pensacola on a small plane and I really got to talk to him. He came and picked up three or four of us from the dormitories, and I met Alabama’s head coach Gene Stallings, Coach Bowden, and had to speak to him personally on the way home. It just solidified back then that I was part of something special. Not just for the victories or the NFL guys or the college All-Americans I played with.
“I think it was the most integral, special part of the whole FSU situation that I spent four years in.”
Former Fort Myers offensive lineman Robbie Baker played for Bowden from 1988-92 and, like Chaney, knew relatively early that FSU was the place for him.
“I knew early on, when I was going through the recruiting process, his visits to the house to see my mom and dad, my parents felt like, ‘You have to be (in Tallahassee),'” Baker said. “I felt it too. He is a remarkable man. He had that charisma, that boasting. He promised my mother and father that he would take care of me.
“He was the father figure to me in the four years I was separated from my parents, trying to continue the path they raised me and build my character from boy to young man. He has his promise always fulfilled. “
Bowden returned to Fort Myers in 2014 and served on a Fellowship of Christian Athletes role on the SFCA campus.
Baker was the one who introduced him that evening.
“One of the best memories, it was about eight years ago when he came to Fort Myers for an FCA speech at a banquet five, and I got the chance to introduce him,” said Baker. “I probably hadn’t seen Coach Bowden 10 to 12 years ago. He came in, saw me, knew exactly who I was, remembered things from my playing days.
“After all this time it was a lovely experience, his memory and recollection was a great time to catch up with him and introduce him to this banquet.
Baker said Bowden never used a curse word in his four years – to show how committed he was to his beliefs.
“He’s been a mentor, he’s been a father figure, he’s always anchored in his beliefs,” added Baker. “In the highs and lows I never heard the man swear at him. He was always an upright person, even behind closed doors when things weren’t going well. He had to come down on us. He was always an upright guy.”
North Fort Myers alum and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders expressed their good wishes for Bowden on Twitter. Sanders was two-time unanimous All-American at FSU in 1987 and 1988 and was selected fifth in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
“Coach Bowden, I love you, treasure you and you have blessed me as a player and helped me become a man,” said Sanders’ tweet. “I really pray for your health and your family. God bless you Coach.”
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