Mike and Bobby Bowden were two of the greatest coaches in the history of college football. Bobby Bowden was one of the game’s most beloved figures, revered for guiding the Seminoles to 28 straight bowl appearances and four national championships in 27 seasons. He died last month at age 76.
And now, because his son, Mike, happened to coach Nick Saban’s old team, the Florida State Seminoles, last season, Bobby could witness his longtime mentor and protégé being named coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
More than 500 miles separate FSU’s campus in Tallahassee, Fla., from the Tide’s practice facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But coach Saban and the head coach he summoned, Steve Sarkisian, have a strong bond that extends from the National Football League to the gridiron.
The Ravens were just beginning to qualify for the playoffs after a 1-3 start in 2012 when many people wrote off their season. But Saban selected Sarkisian to take the team on a three-game run that restored hope to Baltimore fans.
Now, 14 years later, the former NFC West quarterback is Saban’s offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa.
“We saw each other for the first time a year ago on a whole bunch of occasions, probably up until a couple weeks ago, when he’s been out of coaching,” Bobby Bowden said on Sunday. “It’s very natural.”
Sarkisian went to work for Alabama last year and is a favorite target of Brady Hoke, former coach of the Wolverines, who is now at Michigan State. One of Saban’s former assistants, Owen Limpert, is now in his first season as offensive coordinator at San Jose State.
But Crimson Tide boosters don’t expect Sarkisian to bring the purple haze to Tuscaloosa. They are drawn by Saban’s resume, along with the long history of success he built during the run that turned him into one of the sport’s most famous coaches.
Some supporters say it’s a bold move for Saban to name an offensive specialist as his successor, especially with him leaving for the NFL after one more season.
“I think it’s hard for a guy like him to coach a defensive team,” said a longtime Saban supporter who had watched Saban coach virtually every day from 1983 to 2008. “He knows how to get the most out of offensive schemes.”
But the world of sports is full of upheaval. Who knows what the future holds? There have been no outward indications of trouble.
“The thing is, Alabama fans get used to things,” said Scott Porter, a longtime Tide fan who writes a sports blog and attends games regularly. “It’s not like every person is screaming at someone the same way every day.”
The complex relationship between Bobby Bowden and Saban has been on display in past years, when Bobby and an ESPN reporter chatted about the quarterback they both recruited and coached. “Nick is a great football coach,” Bobby said at the time. “He coaches hard, he’s smart and he’s got a great plan. He’s got a great philosophy. … I love him.”