Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

November 13, 2009 1:08 PM

Bowden Finds Return To Coaching Rewarding

Terry Bowden leads team into opener.jpg

UNA head football coach Terry Bowden leads the Lions onto the field against Southern Arkansas  in Magnolia, Ark., in their 2009 season opener. (Photo by Matt McKean/TimesDaily)


Terry Bowden has put out the gone fishing sign.


No, he's not leaving the University of North Alabama after one season as their head football coach. He's just taking advantage of the Lions' opening-round bye in the NCAA Division II playoffs to get in some rest and relaxation this weekend.


The fifth-ranked Lions (10-1, 7-1 Gulf South Conference) received the No. 1 seed in Super Regional 2 and will host the winner of the Arkansas Tech-UNC-Pembroke game in the second round on Nov. 21.


Bowden, 53, is enjoying his return to coaching after an 11-year absence on the sidelines. He guided UNA to a 10-0 record and No. 1 ranking until the Lions lost to West Alabama 31-28 in four overtimes last week in their regular-season finale.


"It has been more enjoyable than I expected," Bowden said. "At one point after I had been out of coaching for 10 years I had made my mind up to a spokesperson for college football, but after I got to be 50 I started thinking I wanted to go coach again no matter what.


"This has been a rewarding season. I'm living a dream, being at North Alabama in Division II football. It's not the same as Division I, but it's just as rewarding."


Previously, Bowden had coaching stops at Salem, Samford and Auburn, compiling a 111-53-2 record in 15 seasons. He led Auburn to an 11-0 record in his first season in 1993 while the team was on NCAA probation and also took the Tigers to three bowl games.  But things turned sour during the 1998 season and he was forced to resign at mid-season after Auburn started 1-5.


During his time away from coaching, Bowden was a studio analyst and color commentator with ABC Sports' college football coverage. He is currently an expert analyst for Westwood One Radio's College Football National Game of Week, co-hosts "The Coaches Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio with Jack Arute, and has been the exclusive college football columnist for Yahoo! Sports.

Terry Bowden looks on.jpg 

But once the coaching bug returned and UNA had an opening, he jumped at the opportunity, although Bowden wondered what he gotten himself into once he arrived on the campus in Florence. Mark Hudspeth, his predecessor, compiled a 66-21 record in seven seasons, with two GSC championships (2003 and 2007) and five NCAA playoff appearances (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008). He left, after UNA reached the D2 semifinals, to become an assistant coach at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen.


 "After I got the job, I thought I had landed in a nightmare," Bowden said with a laugh. "Coach Hudspeth knew when to leave. They had just graduated 21 seniors, including 10 starters on offense, the Harlon Hill runner-up (quarterback A.J. Milwee), the top four receivers and the top two running backs, and six starters on defense."


Bowden rebuilt the Lions' roster with 25 transfers from Division I schools and junior colleges, including seven players from Florida State, where his dad, Bobby Bowden, coaches. The former Seminoles on the UNA roster are sophomore quarterback Cory Eddinger, junior running back Jamaal Edwards, sophomore offensive lineman Will Furlong, senior offensive lineman Kyle Futch, senior wide receiver Preston Parker, sophomore running back Brandon Paul and junior running back Marcus Sims.


Three of the 25 transfers were recruited into the UNA program by Hudspeth and 22 by Terry Bowden.


"We brought in 22 transfers," Bowden said. "That's nothing new. Most of the time at UNA and in the Gulf South Conference, you're dealing with junior college players and transfers. That's why years ago Division II created automatic participation for those players."


The Lions are averaging 41.0 points and 425.9 yards total offense per game. Senior quarterback Harrison Beck, a transfer from North Carolina State, has had the most dramatic impact in Bowden's first season. He has passed for 3,201 yards and 27 touchdowns, while completing 58.4 percent of his passes and throwing only eight interceptions in 418 attempts. He is a candidate for the 2009 Harlon Hill Trophy, the D2 equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.


Porter leads the team with 58 receptions for 663 yards and six touchdowns and wide receiver Mico Swain, a transfer from Ole Miss, has 46 catches for 839 yards, averaging 18.2 yards per catch, and seven touchdowns. Sims is team's second-leading rusher with 257 yards, but has scored a team-high 10 touchdowns.


Defensive back Quinton Andrews, a transfer from West Virginia, leads the team with five interceptions and is the Lions' second-leading tackler with 58 stops.


"They don't like to rebuild at North Alabama, they like to reload," Bowden said. "I had to put together enough talent to see how we'd do in the playoffs.


UNA is in the D2 playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and 15th time overall. The Lions won D2 championships in 1993, 1994 and 1995, advanced to the championship game in 1985 and also reached the semifinals in 1980, 1983, 2003, 2005 and 2008.


"This has been a rewarding season. I'm living a dream, being at North Alabama in Division II football. It's not the same as Division I, but it's just as rewarding." -- Terry Bowden, UNA Coach 


Bowden and his coaching staff, including his brother Jeff Bowden, the receivers coach, were able to take all the new players and mold them into a team. Terry Bowden credits chemistry for the Lions' success.


"About 50 percent of the players were already here and the other 50 percent were new," Bowden said. "Sometimes when you get players from other places they come in with all these expectations. But these guys decided not to be selfish. We don't have any prima donnas. Everybody bought into the team concept. We've got a lot of talent, but we're a very close team."


Bowden is overjoyed to be in the playoffs, especially since the D2 national champion will be decided on the field rather than by polls and computers.


"I'm looking forward to the playoffs," he said. "This is the real season now. It's the first time I've been involved in the playoffs since 1991 or '92 when I was at Samford. We didn't have a playoff system when I was at Auburn. I'm really a strong advocate for playoffs for all divisions. I wrote an article for Yahoo that Division I should have a playoff system and the bowls should be part of it."


Bowden believes the loss to West Alabama will benefit his team heading into the postseason.  "We are coming off a loss, but then only one team in the 24-team playoff field is undefeated," Bowden said. "We had more talent than West Alabama, but they played better. I hope once we get over not going undefeated and getting beat we will use it as motivation, as a wake-up call.


"A lot of our games this season were well in hand by halftime, but there's going to be good competition every week in the playoffs. We have to be prepared ... mentally ready."


Bowden is happy to have a week off before their first playoff and not just because he could go fishing.


"There's not a coach in America who doesn't like to have a week off, especially in Division II where there are no off weeks. You play for 11 straight weeks and get mentally drained. We've got a chance to get people fresh and get well."


Whether that translates into UNA hosting the national championship game in a few weeks - the D2 title game is played in Florence at Braly Stadium - remains to be seen.

Terry Bowden returns.jpg 

"We set our goals quick. We set them high. We set them out-loud and we have never strayed from them," Bowden said. "One goal was to win the Gulf South Conference championship and we did that. Another was to have a perfect regular season. We didn't get that, but it's time to put that aside. When you set your goals at the highest point, that's when it hurts the most if you don't get there. For this team, we are still focused on our ultimate goal and a higher prize.


 "I've broadcast the last three (D2 championship games). I don't know much about the league. I know (defending champion) Minnesota-Duluth is really good. I saw them win it all last year. You also have to keep an eye on Grand Valley State and Northwest Missouri State.


"We've got to play our best football to get to the title game, but we've got to play them one at a time."


Whatever the outcome, Bowden is just glad he's back doing what he loves.


"I'm happier now than the day when I took the job," he said. "Somebody asked me why do this. Well, all it took was for me was to get on the bus with my 11-year-old son (Terry Jr.) and the rest of the team, headed to Arkansas, and hear guys cutting up, just all guy stuff. It's just great to be part of a team. It's just too much fun.


"I've had a lot of great successes and I coached in the last Iron Bowl (between Alabama and Auburn) at Legion Field, but I'll take this season over any of that."

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