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Another key to Bowden's success is his skill as a recruiter. Spurrier and Dennis Erickson, the coach at Miami, may have a slight edge over Bowden as field strategists. Where Bowden is without peer is in the dens and living rooms of the scholastic studfish who often end up on his roster. He has a folksiness and lack of artifice that go over extremely well with parents. "When he looks parents in the eye and tells them, 'I'll take care of your son,' they believe him," says Cottrell.
"Lou Holtz has his magic tricks, and they're pretty neat," says Orlando Sentinel recruiting analyst Bill Buchalter. "But I doubt there is a better coach in the country in the home than Bobby."
"He wasn't just persuasive," says Bob Bentley, a Notre Dame alumnus who was initially opposed to having his son Scott attend Florida State. "He was mesmerizing. He didn't talk about how our son could help Florida State, but about how Florida State could help our son."
Bowden's reputation as a fair man and as a man of his word precedes him throughout Florida, where the Seminoles get about 85% of their recruits. In addition, it does not hurt that Bowden's strong religious faith is common knowledge in the state. Bowden, who begins staff meetings, practices and games with a prayer, has been a lay speaker in churches throughout the South. He still remembers the Sunday when he was 14 and heard Robert Robinson, a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic basketball team, speak at the Ruhama Baptist Church in the East Lake section of Birmingham, where Bowden grew up.
"Back then I always sat in the back row and cut up during church," says Bowden. "But this guy was so impressive, I just said, 'Boy, I wish I could do that.' Now when I speak, I try to have the same positive influence on kids that he had on me."
Yet another selling point for Florida State is that Bowden welcomes two-sport athletes. Ward plays basketball, and last spring six Seminole football players ran track. Eight of this year's freshmen intend to compete in a sport other than football. Even Bentley, the most heralded recruit, plans to play baseball.
Meanwhile Bowden, like his players, has forced himself to adopt an I'11-believe-it-when-I-see-it attitude toward his new kicker's storied field goals. "Fifty-eight-yarders are nice," he says, echoing fullback Floyd and taking nothing for granted, "but what I'm looking for is 38 and straight."
In the Evening Shade studio the terrifying moment passed. Bowden found his voice, opened the door, walked onto the set and into Reynolds' embrace. His lines having escaped him, Bowden winged it. He was terrific.
After each of his scenes the people in the stands applauded. "Cheered like it was a bowl game," says Bowden with a chuckle. "Afterward the guy who wrote the script came up to me and said, 'You know, that's the best script I never wrote.' "
Now maybe Bowden can rework that Miami script.