ATHENS, Ga. -- Bobby Bowden faced his share of crises in 34 years as the legendary football coach at Florida State.
“I had troubles. Y’all have heard of ‘Free Shoes University,’ haven’t you?” Bowden asked a group of reporters Friday morning prior to addressing the gathered high school coaches at Georgia’s annual coaching clinic.
Bowden’s program was the recipient of that derisive nickname when agents were found to have spent thousands of dollars on shoes for Seminoles players. That scandal was one of a handful of times in the longtime coach’s tenure where outside observers questioned whether he was a tough enough disciplinarian.
Indeed, Bowden said he would have to be more of a taskmaster today than when he first entered the coaching profession.
“I would have to do a better job of educating the young men, trying to expose them to things where they would learn some moral issues that maybe they missed in their home,” he said, noting that too many athletes today are raised in single-parent households.
Bowden said he also sees the need for restrictive drug testing policies -- a subject that has been in the news lately at Georgia after a handful of Bulldogs encountered drug-related issues.
“Our society needs it,” Bowden said. “You need something to try to deter these boys and these girls from getting into drugs. It’s all throughout society. Why are football players any worse than anybody else? Everybody else is doing the same dadgum thing, you know? So if you have something that deters them, yes we all ought to do it. But there’s going to be some that fall through the cracks.”
Having players fall through the cracks because of drug issues is a greater possibility at Georgia than at some of its SEC counterparts with more lenient substance abuse policies. Bowden said that leads to more negative headlines for Bulldogs athletes, where similar situations might occur behind closed doors at other schools and won’t reach the media because a first positive drug test does not trigger an automatic game suspension.
“I think one reason Georgia gets so many, you hear about boys getting out of line, is because they’re so doggone restrictive. … I know of a lot of schools -- and I don’t want to say something I shouldn’t say -- but I know drug testing, you don’t have to drug test,” Bowden said. “If you don’t want your boys to be caught with drugs, don’t drug test them. And some schools do that. But if you have a strict drug testing program, the way our society is, you’re going to have kids [test positive].”
Bowden agreed that a universal substance abuse-related punishment policy -- whether at the conference or national level -- would help level the playing field.
“That would be fair,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
One of Bowden’s coaching protégées -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, who spent 14 years working as a Bowden assistant at FSU before taking over at Georgia in 2001 -- no doubt agrees with that assessment, although establishing an SEC- or NCAA-wide substance abuse policy would be a contentious proposition.
The 82-year-old Bowden said he still keeps up with what is happening nationally in college football -- “That’s one thing about it when you retire, you become a laptop operator. I get all the information,” he joked -- so he is aware of the negative headlines that hit Georgia’s program in recent weeks.
However, Bowden supported Richt and the other UGA football administrators, Dave Van Halanger and John Eason, who came with Richt to Georgia from Florida State for their concern about players’ well-being.
No program is immune to disciplinary issues, Bowden said, particularly today.
“Knowing Mark, knowing Van, knowing John Eason -- the boys who coach here who used to coach with me -- they are interested in the boy,” Bowden said. “They are interested in the boy becoming successful, not just money-wise, but getting an education and behaving himself.
“Boy that’s tough. I had six children. They were all different. I had some of them that just, they ain’t going to do what I said to do. And I’ve got some, old Tommy, my son Tommy, he’s the sweetest kid I had. Old Tommy, ‘Oh daddy, don’t spank me. I’ll do whatever you say daddy.’ Not Terry. ‘Open that door where I can get out of here. I’ve got some things going on that you ain’t going to find out about.’
“So anybody that’s raised kids knows it ain’t easy. Try raising 100 of them.”