The Third Bowden
Tommy Working Magic at Tulane
When the Green Wave went 7-4 last season, the powers that be at Tulane were thrilled, a reaction second-year coach Tommy Bowden finds funny. "Most places I've coached, 7-4 will get you fired," he says. "Here it got me a raise."
With the Green Wave 2-0 this year—its best start since 1975—Bowden has plenty more to smile about. Tommy, the 44-year-old son of Florida State coach Bobby and older brother of renowned Auburn coach Terry, has earned temporary family bragging rights: He's the only Bowden who's undefeated this season.
While Terry has been constantly compared with Bobby since taking over as Tigers coach in 1993, at age 37, Tommy is the Bowden son most like his folksy father in temperament. When Tommy heard the Seminoles had suffered a stunning 24-7 loss to North Carolina State two weeks ago, he whipped out his cellular phone and called his father. "Fat man!" he teased. "What happened?"
The three Bowdens phone each other every Saturday night during the season. On Monday morning they send their game videotapes to each other. On Tuesday morning they watch those tapes, critique the games and pilfer ideas from them. "After our Virginia game, Dad was calling with answers," Terry said last Thursday of Auburn's 19-0 shutout loss to the Cavaliers on Sept. 3. "After the North Carolina State loss, he was calling with questions."
Tommy is looking for answers, too, but to questions any coach would love to have. On Sept. 5 Tulane jumped to a 52-14 lead against Cincinnati and held on for a 52-34 victory. A week later the Green Wave led SMU 31-0 before sweating out a 31-21 win. "You know what, Terry?" Tommy said to his brother last week. "I'm having a problem learning what to do when I'm way ahead."
Under Tommy's predecessor, Buddy Teevens, Tulane won 11 games in five seasons. The Green Wave's fast rise is a result of Bowden's offensive scheme, which spreads the field and allows undermanned Tulane to be effective both in the air and on the ground. Last season the Green Wave finished 33rd in the nation in passing (2,598 yards) and 30th in rushing (2,012 yards).
Tulane is winning with players passed over by powers like Auburn and Florida State. Before getting the job in New Orleans, Tommy had been tutored by two of the best passing minds of the last 30 years: his father, for whom he was an assistant for three seasons at Florida State, and Homer Smith, with whom he worked at Alabama a decade ago, when Smith was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator. "This spring I brought Homer in," Tommy says. "He looked at our guys work out and said, 'You really don't have a very good-looking team.' "
In this era of 260-pound tailbacks and 300-pound linemen, many of Tulane's players sound as if they belong on a 1968 roster. "I've got a wideout [senior P.J. Franklin] who's 5'10", 164," Tommy says. "I've got a wide receiver [sophomore John Wilson] who's 5'5", 170.1 start a 250-pound true freshman [Corey Sewell] at offensive tackle. Who is he going to knock off the ball? So we take that 5'5" guy and get him the ball out in the open and let a linebacker try to tackle him."
There's more to it, of course. At quarterback Bowden has Shaun King, a four-year starter who's smart, mobile and accurate. Last season King threw for 2,567 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 511 yards and five touchdowns. This year he's first in the nation in passing efficiency (37-58, 630 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions). "Everybody thinks we rear back and throw it 55 or 60 times a game," King says. "We run the ball as often as we throw it."