Bowden’s not afraid to speak his mind, nor does he hold back if he’s going against the grain. Over 50 years as a coach, 377 wins and two national titles produce such clout.
But when it comes to drug testing, Bowden agrees with most in saying there should be a universal policy – either mandated by the NCAA or by each conference.
“That would be fair,” Bowden said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Bowden’s life in retirement is easygoing. He plays golf frequently and has become a “laptop operator." He also speaks at coaching clinics, recently visiting Auburn and spending Friday at Georgia.
The flavor of the week in the Classic City has centered on drug testing due to the reported suspension of two Bulldogs defensive starters.
Georgia’s policy is more stringent than most in the SEC and the nation, a fact that has some fans questioning the system.
“If you don’t want your boys to be caught with drugs, don’t drug test them,” Bowden said. “Some schools do that.”
Georgia and coach Mark Richt, an assistant under Bowden at Florida State for more than decade, have taken a tough stance on drug testing and punishments levied.
According to the Georgia athletic association, a student-athlete receives a suspension for 10 percent of a team’s schedule – one football game - for the first failed drug test. The second lands you on the bench for 30 percent – four games. The third strike: you’re out.
“I think one reason Georgia gets so many, you hear of boys getting out of line, is because they’re so restrictive,” Bowden said. “(Richt’s) program is so restrictive.”
Richt even acknowledges his program is more restrictive than others.
“Are we going to discipline our players the way they ought to be disciplined according to what they’ve done?” Richt responded earlier this year. “I think we do that, maybe more strict than other people do.”
These strict measures compete head-to-head with the bottom line: winning. Because winning, or losing, impacts the real bottom line: dollars generated. Georgia is now facing the reality of beginning the season without safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree due to their own bad decisions. But some fans are crying foul about Georgia’s policy, which is one of only two SEC schools that suspend for the first offense and dismiss on the third (Kentucky being the other). The team will undoubtedly suffer because of this. With that in mind – the bottom line in mind – is such tough stance necessary?
“Our society needs it.” Bowden answers. “You need something to try to deter these boys and these girls from getting into these drugs. I mean it’s all throughout our society. Why are football players any worse than anybody else? Everybody else is doing the same dad gum thing. If you have something that deters them, yes we all ought to do it.”
Bowden spent 34 years at Florida State coaching numerous players that went on to the NFL. And yet what seems to strike him the most about his experience is a social issue that got increasingly worse as his career entered its final stages.
“The biggest thing I hate to see, I think it’s hurt our country more than anything in the world, is the breakdown of the family,” he said.
Bowden recruited far too many kids that didn’t have a dad, didn’t have a male figure anywhere near the home. He coached too many players that had never been told no and weren’t raised the way Bowden had been – the nuclear family with two adults with regular jobs and an average income.
Bowden and his wife Ann raised six kids – but in actuality there’s no telling how many players he became the chief father figure of.
“I tried to do everything I could to get the family atmosphere,” he said. “I’ll tell you, there’s one thing about football – you’ve got a chance to save them through football. Knowing Mark… they are interested in the boy (at Georgia). They are interested in the boy becoming successful, not just money wise but getting an education and saving himself. Boy that’s tough though.”
What’s tough is the fact that being interested in each player’s moral well-being and growth sometimes conflicts with the bottom line in college football.
Fans ultimately don’t care why you’re not achieving championships and 10-win seasons. They just care that you’re not winning enough. That leads to pressure on the administrators, which leads to pressure on the coach.
Make no mistake; no matter where you stand on the issue of harsh drug policies, nobody is pleased when the rules have to be enforced.
“It’s very frustrating,” Richt said. “Would it frustrate you? If you were the head ball coach you’d be very frustrated.”
Bowden says his ways wouldn’t have made it in the coaching profession in today’s landscape. More time must be spent on educating players about outside factors. It’s not all the x’s and o’s anymore. It’s more broad than that.
“There’s no university immune to this,” Bowden said. “You might think you are. If your university is clean you better hang loose because it’s our society today. …You’ve got to be lucky to hang on.”