During the spring of 1994, Tom Allen was a 23-year-old, first-year high school head coach in Tampa, Fla. Two-hundred and fifty miles away in Tallahassee, Bobby Bowden was a 64-year-old, first-time national champion at Florida State University.
Entering that initial season of leading a program all his own, Allen had questions. So he wrote a letter to the decorated Seminoles coach seeking answers. Allen wasn’t sure if the busy Bowden would respond. They didn’t have a personal relationship, though Allen at that point had made a few trips north to watch Florida State practice. Then, one day, an envelope arrived in the mail.
“I didn’t expect a hand-written response,” Allen said. “That’s what I got.”
When news broke Sunday of Bowden’s death at age 91, Allen’s mind traveled back to that letter and the words of wisdom the legendary coach was willing to share. For Allen, who’s now entering his fifth season as IU’s head coach, Bowden represented so many of the things that a football coach should be, and his reach was top of mind as Allen led his team through its fourth practice of fall camp on Monday.
“He made a huge impact on me,” Allen said. “I’d go up there and watch him when they were at the pinnacle of what they were doing. Just the way he led (impressed me). Obviously, he did a phenomenal job as a football coach. That’s pretty obvious. But it’s what he did off the field that I wanted to emulate.”
His impact on and off the field spans for many generations and will continue for many more to come. I will never forget that he took the time to respond to me with a hand written letter of challenge and encouragement when I was a young high school coach in Tampa, FL! #LEO https://t.co/FdbRhmPT06— Coach Tom Allen (@CoachAllenIU) August 8, 2021
It seems everyone in the college football orbit has a Bowden story, and several beautiful tributes to the two-time national champion and College Football Hall of Famer have been penned over the past two days.
Allen has his own Bowden tale, and in mourning the death of the old coach, he was eager to share when asked on Monday.
“They had won the national championship in 1993, so he’s obviously got a lot of things going on,” Allen said. “He didn’t have to take the time to write back to someone he didn’t know. But that just shows you who he was. I’ve never forgotten that. It was a purposeful response. He talked about the care for your players and helping them in the things that matter most. He’s such a strong man of his faith and he addressed that in his letter, too. I’ve never forgotten that. ... I’ve always looked up to him. He’s a guy that I want to be like.”