Terry Bowden has taken over a limping Auburn program hammered by NCAA sanctions and down-and-out teams at Salem College and Samford. The once hot coaching commodity engineered turnarounds all three times.
Now, the longtime broadcaster returns to the sidelines at Division II power North Alabama with designs on his first championship and no delusions that he’s stepping into a low-pressure environment.
“Those were easy jobs to win one more than the last guy,” Bowden, 52, said Thursday in a phone interview after being formally introduced as UNA’s coach in Florence. “Here there’s only one level to go to and that’s a national championship. I’m excited about it. I’m thriving on it.
“I don’t think they’re going to tan me if don’t do it. My goal is to take them to another level. One of the reasons I came back is I want to win a championship. I’ve never won a championship.”
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The Lions have four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins and are coming off a national semifinal appearance. Mark Hudspeth left to become an assistant under new Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
Bowden has been out of coaching for a decade and is currently a broadcaster for Westwood One Radio and a college football writer for Yahoo Sports. He also does a heavy slate of speaking engagements, including some 75 in 2008, Bowden said.
The desire to coach again hit him two years ago when Florida State, coached by his father Bobby, hired him as a consultant during a search for new offensive coaches.
Bobby Bowden wound up hiring former Auburn and Terry Bowden assistants Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator, Rick Trickett as line coach and Todd Stroud as strength and conditioning coach.
“I kind of got that excitement. It just started to hit me,” Bowden said. “It kind of started to get that fire back in me. I said, ‘I’m going to test the waters next year.‘ ”
Last year, he interviewed at his alma mater West Virginia to replace Rich Rodriguez. By the time assistant Bill Stewart was promoted to the job last January, it was too late to apply for other openings.
This time the job practically came to him when Bowden was broadcasting the Division II national championship game at North Alabama’s Braly Stadium.
“Somebody handed me a note during the broadcast and said, ‘Would you be interested?‘ ” Bowden said. “I wrote note back on piece of paper saying, ‘Call me if you want to talk to me.‘ ”
Bowden figured if he wanted to return directly to the major college ranks it would have to be as an assistant, an unfamiliar position for a guy whose first head coaching job came at age 26.
“This was really the first year I said I’m going, I miss it,” he said. “I want to coach and I’m going. I just don’t know where or at what level. Financially I can afford it so I’m really going to go for it.”
Athletic director Mark Linder called him at the hotel that night and they had other conversations. Bowden came in Wednesday for a round of interviews and was hired that evening for what he admits is a significant paycut.
His salary was not immediately available.
Bowden then left Thursday shortly after his introductory news conference to fly to Dallas to work the Cotton Bowl for Westwood One.
“I’m as excited as I was the day I went to Samford and the day I went to Auburn,” he said.
Bowden has an impressive pedigree as a head coach. At NAIA Salem, he won 19 of his last 25 games at a program that was 0-9-1 the year before his arrival. The team led the nation in total offense his last two seasons.
At Samford, which went from Division III to I-AA, he went 9-1 in his first year, three more wins than the team had totaled the previous three seasons. That team led the nation in total offense and scoring.
Auburn had won five games each of the past two seasons before his arrival. The Tigers went 11-0 his first season and won the first nine games in ‘94 despite heavy scholarship reductions and a postseason ban.
Bowden resigned six games into the 1998 season and has maintained that he left after influential trustee Bobby Lowder told him he would be fired.
Now, he returns after brother Tommy, his offensive coordinator at Auburn, stepped down as Clemson’s head coach.
“When one Bowden goes into football, one Bowden goes out,” Bowden joked. “Maybe I can throw Tommy some bread.
“We only won 20 straight last time we got together.”