"I set my goal right there: I want to get 324," Terry says. "That's it. I was 26 years old; he was 69 the day he died. Now I've got 84 wins, and if I can win eight games a year and coach till I'm 69, I'll have 324. It's not a goal to win all my games or cut corners. It's a goal to learn football, try to be a solid coach. Try to stay in this business as long as he did."
Terry chose "Audacity" as his team's motto this year, and what could be more audacious than to stroll into the Bear's backyard and set the legend in your sights? It is something his dad would never do. "That's Terry," says Bobby. "In his first job, and he's already counting." So forget Pat Dye (236 wins) being a hard act to follow. "Forget Bobby Bowden," Terry chuckles. "This [goal] makes it easy to deal with big shoes."
There's a catch, though. Has such enormous ambition ever been realized without cost? Because even as Terry and Shyrl show you around their huge home, even as he presses a button and the voice of James Taylor drifts over the girls like a benediction—"Goodnight, you moonlight laa-dies, rock-a-bye Sweet Baby James..."—there is one crack in his pretty picture. In eighth grade, the moment Bobby became the coach at West Virginia, Terry saw what he wanted to be and moved toward it with rare fury. He wanted to start at West Virginia not just because he loved the game but because with his grades he could have been an Academic All-America, and that would have made some future employer take notice. He took classes in dynamic speaking and television-radio communications because a coach must know how to address the public. He majored in accounting because coaching is big business, got a law degree, from Florida State, because it would set him apart from other assistants. He had the highest grades on the team. "It wasn't so much that I loved my subjects," Terry says. "I was hoping to pad that résumé."
Everything was for coaching—for 324. The high school sweetheart he married in college, Twila, and the daughter they had when Terry was 26 got lost in the drive. In his first year at Salem, 1983, the Tigers began 0-6. His father had taught him: When the going gets tough, work harder. "It was very difficult," Terry says. "I'm the son of Bobby Bowden—I'm supposed to win. At that point he'd already gone 11-1 [at Florida State], gone to two Orange Bowls. He was becoming one of the top coaches in the country, and I couldn't win at all. The pressure was overwhelming. All my life I'd wanted to be a college football coach, and my first year it doesn't look like I'm going to make it. I'm thrust into this very adverse situation, and that was all I ever conveyed to my wife. I can't sleep; I'm working. She's left out."
Twila asked for a separation before the seventh game. Salem lost that one too. The next year, while Terry was on his way to a conference championship, the two were divorced; 12-year-old Tera Dawn Bowden now lives with her mother and stepfather hundreds of miles away. Bobby had taught Terry everything about coaching except the price. "It was sad. I was being like my father," Terry says. "And I assumed all wives handled it like my mother. She may be mad or happy, but she's got six kids in the house, and she's going to raise them by herself. That was the way I thought it was supposed to be: I was supposed to neglect my wife, work hard, and good things were going to happen."
He likes to think he's changed. He met Shyrl during his last year at Salem, and this time, Terry says, he thinks more about his family. He schedules them into his calendar; he plans four trips a year away from football. He tries, Shyrl says, but she's no fool. "I went into this marriage with my eyes wide open," she says. "I wasn't going to pretend that I could change him." And Terry knows no Auburn fan cares how good a family man he is. "The things they love about me are what cost me a marriage," he says. "I'm driven. I get up at 4:15 every morning in the season, I'm in the office by five, I work late, I like Mondays better than Fridays. Those are the things that caused me not to be a good husband the first time. People say I don't ever lose. But I did a lot of learning. You just weren't watching."
Pat Dye extends a creased, hard hand behind him, reaching for something without looking. He is indoors, but his eyes narrow in the permanent squint of a man who has spent his life staring across fields, measuring boys and cattle. His voice is thick, redolent of hunting dogs baying across a cool Alabama morning. He reaches to stroke the leaves of the potted palm, feels they are dead. He crushes them between his fingers and bits flutter to the carpet. "It's a funny place to coach, the state of Alabama," Dye says. "Football's important here."
He smiles thinly at this, a small joke with himself. As the former Auburn coach, he knows better than anyone: There is no place in America—not Texas, not Florida and certainly not California—where a mere game has more importance, where hatred between camps runs so deep. Auburn plays Alabama on Saturday. "For too many, the outcome of this game affects how people feel about themselves," says Auburn's Housel. "It affects people's lives more than any event in the state."
Dye can testify to that. In December 1992 his 12-year career as Auburn coach ended after one messy and bitter episode of NCAA violations and taped conversations by former player Eric Ramsey. He resigned, got a nice settlement after threatening to "bloody" anyone who tried to make him the sole fall guy, became an assistant to the university president. And though Dye admits he lacked proper control over his staff, he—like many Auburn loyalists—believes that Alabama boosters greased his slide. "At Auburn," says Bowden, "there's only one thing worse than losing to Alabama every year: beating Alabama every year."
"There's elements on both sides—Auburn and Alabama—that just want to destroy each other," says Auburn trustee Bobby Lowder, a key backer of Bowden's appointment. "It's unfortunate but true."