As golfers on the neighboring fairway passed by one divot at a time, the All-time Winningest Coach in Division One football history answered our myriad of questions one smile at a time.

Coach Bobby Bowden discussing sustaining success.

Everything from “How have you been?” to “How’s the golf game?” to “Where are you speaking next?” was answered with the kind of Bowden charisma that made him a football icon—most likely the same kind of charm that allowed he and the amazing Mrs. Bowden to last 64 years and counting.

We even asked him how he felt about the Wuerffel Trophy and the former FSU football coach’s response was uncanny.  “When they first asked me to be a voter with the Wuerffel Trophy, my first thought was ‘Now hold on, I’ve seen enough of Danny on the football field, ya know’,” joked Bowden who couldn’t resist the chance to tease a former Florida Gator QB who managed to give Bowden a few extra frowns during his playing days.

Then Bowden focused on the serious nature of the award.

“This trophy talks about character and the spirit of a young man.  That’s what the Wuerffel Trophy is all about.  We’ve got to have everyone in the country interested in this.”

The questions were orchestrated by the executive director of the Wuerffel Trophy, Tom Brassell, whose genuine interest in Bowden as well as the passion for what the award represents was clearly on display.

Bowden’s guest this morning was 7-time New York Times best-selling author Don Yaeger who, despite traveling all over the world as a leadership speaker, journeyed poolside with us to participate in the filming.  Yaeger had just returned from Boise State University where he met with talented head football coach Chris Peterson on the subject of success.  You’d be hard pressed to find a current head coach with a resume as decorated as Coach Peterson’s.  Since stepping foot onto the Idaho campus Peterson has compiled a career record of (84-8) with four WAC Championships, 2 Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards, and one Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year honor.

Fueled by his dialogue with Coach Peterson, Yaeger was now eager to know more about sustaining success from Coach Bowden—a man who epitomized consistent success by spending 14 straight seasons with a national ranking no worse than 5th.

Bowden opened his cup of football knowledge and refreshed us with a couple keys to success.  In two parts, he attributed it to a team’s ability to:  cope with defeat, and keep their staff intact.

“Some coaches will lose a ballgame, and they can’t get it off their mind.  They won’t let it.  The kids can’t get it off their mind, and they lose the next one…And the next one.  Forget it… Forget it.  A lot of times we would lose a game, and we wouldn’t even look at the film.  I didn’t want my boys to even see the film.  Forget that dadgum game and let’s go get on to the next one…  That’s what helps you maintain the winning,” said Bowden.

He then set his focus on the second part of sustaining success.

“When they start winning, other schools want to get their coaches.  They come in and hire your coaches away from you.  Maintaining your coaching staff is very big.  I hardly ever lost coaches and that was one of the big reasons for our success.”

Afterwards, Yaeger took his poolside seat and dazzled us on the microphone as well with his perspective of the award and its purpose.

“The NFL names its Man of the Year Award the ‘Walter Payton Trophy’…  This is that Walter Payton Trophy for college sports,” said Yaeger—who lived with Payton during the final months of his life and wrote his autobiography.  “That’s the beauty of this award.  We’re not just recognizing on-the-field performance, though it is important.  We’re also looking at what they do, where their heart is, and that’s pretty important stuff.”

The author Elton Gumbel (right) with Don Yaeger
and Coach Bowden.

In just a matter of moments, a few questions turned into inspiration and a premium testimony for the Wuerffel Trophy.  In my book, the biggest benefit was that I left Bowden’s a little bit better than when I arrived.  That’s been a constant in my interviews with Bowden over the years.

Who am I?  I’m Elton Gumbel…  I’m just a former television sports anchor with a pair of famous cousins (Bryant and Greg).   I’m also a man who had the pleasure of spending one Friday morning in the sunshine state filming and learning about life lessons from two men who get paid to speak about leadership, yet led this memorable conversation free of charge.

The result, much like the true meaning behind the Wuerffel Trophy, was priceless.

Elton Gumbel is the Director of Multimedia for 180 Communications.  He can be contacted at (850)412-0300 office, (816)719-9404 or at Elton@team180.com.