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Senior College Football Columnist

Terry Bowden's back, looking to put the Zip back in staggering Akron


Bowden coached Auburn to a perfect record in 1993 before being forced out in 1998. (Jeff Harwell/Zips Sports)  
Bowden coached Auburn to a perfect record in 1993 before being forced out in 1998. (Jeff Harwell/Zips Sports)    

We don't have any of those guys that are going to be automatic NFL stars.

When is the last time you heard that from a Bowden -- anywhere? Papa (Bobby) Bowden won those two national championships. His last team at Florida State in 2009 had three draft choices. Son Tommy spent 10 steady, if not spectacular, years at Clemson averaging almost 2.5 draftees per season.

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This is merely a glimpse of the first family of college football. Here's another: Terry Bowden -- the author of the statement above. He went undefeated the same season his dad won a national championship. He knew cutthroat in the SEC before the BCS ever started.

It hardly matters that this first-family member has had one player drafted in the past 13 years. There are a couple of huge qualifiers. A) He hasn't coached at the major-college level since 1998 at Auburn. B) He has chosen to return to that level with Akron.

Akron, a MAC bottom dweller. Akron, which has won two games in the past two seasons; five in the past three. Akron, which was damn lucky to have a 56-year old son of a legend available.

"You look and they were in the bottom 10 in every statistical category the last two years," Terry said of his new team. "I don't know whether there was a morale problem or a talent problem. The statistics are so bad I've got to believe the kids are better than the record indicated."

Let's hope.

One reality is that this Bowden -- the 1993 national coach of the year -- wanted so bad to get back to FBS (Division I-A) that he chose Akron more than the other way around. Nothing wrong with that. Akron couldn't have done much better, and if Bowden sees hope there you have to trust him. This year Akron has turned out to be a center of rebirth -- if not winning football.

Bowden and some guy named Tressel have connected.

"Jim Tressel fits in so comfortably with the academic community," Bowden said of Ohio State's disgraced former coach, now Akron's vice president of school engagement, "a much better shirt and tie guy than I am."

Bowden's last name is famous, but you wonder what weight it carries with Akron players who weren't born when Auburn went undefeated in 1993. That was the year Papa won his first national championship.

Reborn, unborn, they can research this: In 5 1/2 seasons with the Tigers, Terry won his first 20 games, finished 30 games above .500 and played in an SEC title game. He was forced out in 1998.

Bowden then embarked on a career becoming an entertaining, sensible voice of the game. Over the next decade, he worked on ABC television, Westwood One radio and as a columnist for Yahoo! Bowden had the name but he also proved over and over he was good at what he did.

"I was trying to figure out my place in the world," he said. "I figured out I was going to be a spokesperson for the game. I turned 50, looked in the mirror and said 'For the rest of my life do I want to be on the other side of the camera or do I want to get back in the arena and play the game?"

The answer is being played out in Akron's preseason camp that opened last week. Actually, it started back in 2009 when Bowden was working the Division II championship game at North Alabama in Florence, Ala. Around that time, he let it be known that he was ready to get back into coaching.

The day of the game North Alabama coach Mark Hudspeth resigned. Bowden says the school's AD, Mark Linder, practically slid a note under the door during the broadcast.

There was nothing wrong with the Lions becoming a haven for Division I transfers. Bowden had the connections and sometimes that's how you win at the D-II level. He went 30-9 in three seasons, going to the playoffs each year.

And if you want to talk draft choices, North Alabama has had one more (Janoris Jenkins) than Akron (none) in the past four years.

"I was really enjoying North Alabama," Bowden said. "To me that's where you get to coach. When you're a head coach in Division I, you have CEO-type things. Almost everybody gets fired or close to fired at some point. If you're going in just for the glamour, somewhere along the line you're probably going to get smacked in the face."

At Akron, Bowden has put the band back together. Brother Jeff, the lighting-rod assistant for his dad at Florida State, is the special teams coach. Chuck Amato, a 21-year FSU veteran and former North Carolina State head coach, begins his 40th year of coaching as defensive coordinator. Terrell Buckley, FSU's T-Buck, is the cornerbacks coach.

Notice a certain Garnet and Gold flavor?

To put it nicely, turning around Akron is going to be a chore. But if the MAC is anything, it is fluid. Since 2002, seven schools have won conference titles. And Bowden knows a little about what he is getting into. He was Gerry Faust's first quarterbacks coach at Akron in 1986. Safe to say, their careers went in different directions from there.

Meanwhile, Akron has pretty much stayed Akron. The Zips did win the MAC in 2005 (at 7-6). Since then the Akron is 19-53. Bowden holds onto that promise of being reborn. InfoCision Stadium is still an attraction, the $62 million facility having opened in 2009. The 100-yard indoor practice facility, the new coach says, is as good as any he has seen. There is always high school talent in Ohio. Little of it has migrated to Akron lately.

"I thought someone was going to step into Akron and really catch it at the right moment," Bowden said.

Forget the draft choices, then. Akron would settle for a quick exit from laughingstock status. A Bowden is in charge again in college football. That should be good enough.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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