This weekend Bobby Bowden turned 74 and remained two games ahead of Penn State’s Joe Paterno as major college football’s all-time winningest coach. Both Bowden and Paterno lost; the former to Clemson, coached by son Tommy, the latter to Northwestern.
Bowden doesn’t say much when asked about the record and the ostensible mano a mano with Paterno. It’s awkward — especially given Paterno’s fall of discontent — and he generally dismisses the subject in a light-hearted vein. He saves it for the media and fans to chat up.
That they do — as well as speculate about how long both Paterno, who turns 77 next month, and Bowden will keep going. The high-pressure, high-stakes arena that is big-time college coaching is hardly a septuagenarian’s pursuit.
While Bowden will never admit it, if his health cooperates, he just might want to try and coach a few more years beyond Paterno. But not to pad his numbers. More like to validate them.
At this stage, it’s all about legacy — and Bobby’s has an asterisk. Not all of his victories — unlike Paterno’s and Bear Bryant’s — came against major competition. He has 31 grandfathered wins against small schools, starting with Maryville, from when he coached his alma mater Howard (now Samford).
He gets to count Millsaps as if it were Michigan.
It is, of course, permissible, but it’s not quite right. And over the years, it will be brought up again — especially if Bob Stoops makes a career of college coaching. So look for Bowden, if possible, to try and top Paterno by at least 32 victories. But don’t look for him to say so.