FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.- During his six seasons as coach at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., Terry Bowden dreamed the way his father had 30 years earlier.
"I coached my fanny off, hoping someday, if things went right, I could get a chance to coach at Auburn or Alabama," Bowden said.
He coached Samford from 1987 through 1992.
His father, Bobby, was coach there from 1959 through 1962, and destiny took him another way. Bobby, 64, has become a legend at Florida State and is completing his 18th season there.
In 1980, Bobby Bowden turned down the Auburn job, and Pat Dye was hired. In 1987, Bowden turned down the Alabama job, and Bill Curry was hired.
When Dye resigned before the 1992 Alabama game, fate linked Terry Bowden, 37, and Auburn. In his first season, he directed the Tigers to their first 11-0 season and has them in contention for the national championship despite being on probation.
"It's especially pleasing to me," Bowden said, "because I know I'm living what was always my father's dream. He grew up with Auburn and Alabama. He's told of the days when he coached at Samford and hoped for the same opportunity I now have."
"We were best"
The undefeated season was accomplished in the first year of NCAA sanctions, keeping Auburn off television and out of the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Tigers will be back on TV next year but still will be restricted from the SEC title game and a bowl.
Auburn could only watch yesterday as Alabama and Florida played for the championship and Sugar Bowl trip.
"I'll probably watch it," Bowden said the other day, "but I've already seen Florida (a 38-35 loser at Auburn) and Alabama (a 22-14 loser at Auburn) this year. I know history won't show it, but the record clearly says we were the conference's best team. That's good enough for me.
"I believe there will be other years for the championship game and Sugar Bowl. Being in the national-championship picture (ranked No. 4 by the writers in the AP poll) is more important to me. I had hoped we would have an outside chance based on the results of the bowl games, but I kind of doubt it now. It's also important to me that we have Auburn football back on the right track."
Auburn's performance showed that Bobby Lowder of Montgomery, the search committee man who promoted Bowden's selection, knew what he was doing.
"His daughter, Catherine, was my on-campus recruiting coordinator at Samford and is now my executive secretary," Bowden said. "I knew he had been watching me, but he's not a Terry Bowden man, he's an Auburn man. He also led support to get Pat Dye hired."
Dye's role important
In his first season, Bowden was aiming for six victories because it would have been an improvement over the 5-5-1 finish in 1992.
"It would have made it possible to buy the direction we wanted to take the program," Bowden said. After an 11-0 finish, it's an easy sell.
Bowden included Dye in the transition. He convinced the players left by Dye that they were recruited because they were talented. He also put together a staff, headed by older brother Tommy, to install the offense he had learned from his father and coached for 10 years.
"Including Pat in the transition was very important, in my opinion," the elder Bowden said. "Terry was going to coach Pat's boys, and I'm sure they felt more comfortable with Pat being treated as part of the program."
Bowden retained Wayne Hall, Dye's defensive coordinator, and he never considered any direction but one that would include the former coach.
"Coach Dye left," Bowden said. "They didn't make him leave, and he did it because he thought it was best for Auburn."
"I know (Dye) felt vindicated," Bowden said. "Just 11 months earlier, it was said that he had destroyed the program, that Auburn was finished. We've just started again, and we did it without cleaning house."
Auburn's offense improves
During the offseason, Bowden and staff showed players tapes of their high-school games.
"We told them, `You wouldn't be here if you couldn't play,' " he said. "We were working to their mental approach. They had to start thinking like winners. During the preseason, I told them over and over that I wouldn't ask for the impossible. I just wanted them to do what they did best, and if they did, we'd win."
He put in what he called "Florida State's 1991-Casey Weldon offense." It's the only one he's ever known. He worked with it as a graduate assistant at Florida State from 1979 through 1982, and he used it at Salem (W.Va.) College from 1983 through '85, then at Samford.
"Another good thing he did," the father said, "was get Tommy back to coaching and teaching. The season before, he was just the coordinator."
Defensively, Auburn allowed 17 points a game, about the same as 1992, but the offensive production increased from 21 to 33 points a game. Turnovers were reduced, the takeaway ratio was increased. In the fourth quarter, the Tigers held a 9-minute possession edge.
First game crucial
Auburn's first game, against Mississippi, was crucial: The Rebels had won 45-21 last season.
"Beating Ole Miss 16-12 meant instant credibility with the players," Bowden said. "We had told them, `You do this and this, and we'll win.' They did, and it worked. They started believing in us and our program."
In the next five games, the Tigers won (34-10) at Louisiana State for the first time since 1939. They lost a 21-7 halftime lead to Southern Mississippi and had to rally to win 35-24; then they held Vanderbilt on four downs from the 1 to preserve a 14-10 win.
The sixth victory, over Florida, was decided by a late field goal.
"They left us in the game too long," Bowden said, "and it cost them."
After Florida, Auburn's goals and directions changed. "We started thinking about 11-0."
In the third quarter of the 11th game, against Alabama, Auburn trailed 14-5 and faced fourth-and-15 at the Crimson Tide 35. Backup quarterback Pat Nix, on his first play, completed a touchdown pass to Frankie Sanders, one of the Dillard Five.
It was the type of gamble for which his father is renowned, even if it wasn't a gimmick.
"Tommy and I talked it over," Bowden said. "The punt gains us little or nothing, and the field goal wasn't a good percentage. I said, `Let's go for it,' and we hit it."
Accomplishment lifts burden
So Bowden has learned.
"He's been through it all," Bobby said. "He used to sit in on our Friday night meetings. Growing up in a coach's family, you know all the pitfalls."
Bowden grew up with West Virginia-Pittsburgh and Florida State-Florida as the big rivalries in his life.
He lived this season in Sewell Hall, the players' dormitory, with wife Shyrl, daughters Tera, 11, Erin, 2, and Cori, 1, and son Jordan, 3. On game day, the players and coaches walk from the dormitory to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"There was 30,000 people out there for Tiger Walk the day of the Alabama game," Bowden said. "It was enough to make you tremble. Now I understand why Auburn-Alabama was always so special to my dad. I also understand why my father shares in my accomplishment and excitement about coaching at Auburn."
At the same time, Terry Bowden did something else very important to him this season.
"We killed the myth," he said. "It was important for me, Tommy and Jack Hines (his brother-in-law) and even for Jeff (his brother who coaches at Southern Mississippi). Nationally, it's always perceived as we're where we are in the coaching business because of our father. That's a burden we don't have to carry anymore."