Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The recent spate of columns about Terry Bowden's new job at North Alabama (or more accurately, Jerry's post about them) got me thinking about Bowden for the first time in quite a while.

Terry Bowden is the only Auburn coach I've ever actually known personally. Pat Dye wouldn't know me from a pair of mud-encrusted plaid pants, and while Tommy Tuberville certainly knows who I am (he almost banned the local Rivals guys from the athletic department thanks in part to my '03 columns), we've never spoken in anything other than brief pleasantries at the Atlanta alumni club banquets.

But I spent a bit of time with Terry while writing "The Uncivil War," and a little more time in the years between its publication and his abrupt departure. Not a lot; we weren't on each other's Christmas lists, but he'd take my calls on the very rare occasions when I made them, and I got to know him a little bit. Most of what I got to know you could figure out from a distance: Terry is a smart and talented guy, but he was always a lot more about Terry than he ever was about Auburn.

I suspect the only people Terry ever really listened to were other Bowdens, and this was the downfall of both Terry and Tommy as coaches if you ask me. Together they could bounce ideas off each other and one could call the other out when he was suggesting something stupid. Apart, lacking feedback they respected, each one would go ahead and do the stupid thing. Quite obviously, Terry loves the sound of his own voice, and he's got the politician's habit of telling whomever he's talking to what he thinks they want to hear.

When it comes to why things just didn't work out with Terry and Auburn, two specific moments leap to my mind. Bowden's Auburn honeymoon ended on the night of September 21, 1996. The hometown Tigers lost a close one to the LSU variety on the night the old gym burned down outside the stadium gates, but what sticks out from that night for me was Bowden's post-game radio interview. Obviously agitated, Terry recounted how Auburn's kicker had a meltdown, and the backup quarterback threw a bad interception, and a few other things that time has thankfully erased from my memory.

Mind you, nothing he said was untruthful. The kicker did melt down, and the backup did throw a pick or three, but Bowden didn't take responsibility for the loss on himself, and virtually everybody listening thought, "He's blaming his players." The resulting reaction was the first real dose of poison in the relationship between Bowden and Auburn at large, and things festered, slowly, over the next couple of years. Bowden was still successful enough on the field to survive and occasionally thrive--at least while Dameyune Craig was in an AU uniform.

I also remember the exact moment when I knew Terry's job was in trouble. In August of 1998, there was a scrimmage for the scholarship donors in Jordan-Hare, with a coach autograph session in the Club Level after the "game." I'd recently done some freelance stuff for Inside The Auburn Tigers magazine, and was on the sidelines for the scrimmage (I recall ITAT editor Mark Murphy trying to telegraph to me that it was going to be a long season).

I walked up to the Club Level to see how things went afterwards. A couple of hundred hot, sweaty donors were lined up with their kids for autographs, but no Terry. I chatted with Pete Jenkins for a little while; Jenkins was and is one of the best people ever in that profession, and he did his level best to calm things down, but time kept ticking, and the day kept getting hotter, and still no Terry. The line got angrier and angrier; you could see Bowden's support literally dripping away on the faces of the rank-and-file athletic donors, the people whose goodwill he'd need the most just a few weeks later.

Since I was never looking for any autographs, I decided to hang it up and go find some air conditioning. On my way out of the stadium, I glanced down into the superstructure below the south end zone. There was Terry, yukking it up and eating watermelon with the ground crew. I shook my head, and went on home.


KungFuPanda9 said...

You've written a very perceptive piece. The last paragraph says a lot without pounding one over the head.

Pride is a powerful motivator. Pride makes some people commit suicide rather than face humiliation, or capture, or defeat. I would like to know what kind of exchanges went down between Terry and the Powers That Be. If they were insulting or demeaning to him, he would get his back up.

By him staying away from the autograph signing session, of which he knew full well the importance and repercussions thereof, he was making a decision. He was exerting what control over the situation he could. His ego was making a decision he could live with.

I like what you said about the fact that he probably only listened to other Bowdens. Of that there should be no doubt. I fully believe he called his dad and asked him about whether to quit mid-season or stick it out. I'm sure daddy Bowden said, "Leave those SOBs hanging and get out of Dodge. You'll get something else."

For Auburn fans, they will always hate him. But within the Bowden family, football is a business. Yeah, they "love" their school while they're coaching at it. But they also figure these schools come and go. I'll coach at another school one day.

The same people, and for similar reasons, who hate Saban for leaving LSU are gonna hate him when he leaves Bama. What? You think he's gonna stay at Alabama for the rest of his coaching career? That would be naive.

The average time at one school may have been something like eleven years, but now it is much less than that. The Joe Paternos and Bobby Bowdens are the exception, not the rule.

Archie said...

Actually, I know someone who was in Terry's house and heard the conversation when when he talked with Papa Bowden about quitting or staying. Papa Bowden advised him STRONGLY NOT TO QUIT. Told him it would be a mistake he could not rectify or "do over"...he might never get another coaching job if he walked out before the season was over.

Some good Auburn folks were telling him the same thing.

He quit within four hours of talking with his dad...regardless of what he or any Bowden will tell you today

KungFuPanda9 said...

oooh, I feel like Woodward and Bernstein talking to you-know-who in the parking gararage.

You wouldn't happen to know someone who was in the room when the guys told Terry, "You will be fired at the end of the season."

Archie said...

Yeah, I know two people who were in the room. I also know he was advised to stay instead of quitting.

Turns out, they were was his Papa...and Terry was wrong.

But that matters not...Terry has indicated on more than one occasion he'd make the same decision again. And that tells me all you need to know about Terry Bowden.

KungFuPanda9 said...

Well, I'm glad you posted because I didn't want you to take my post the wrong way. I really do appreciate your input on this subject.

What I really want to know is, how did the hiring and firing guys talk to Terry? Why did they tell him he would be fired at the end of the season?

That is a mysterious business model if you want good production from a manager.