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Vacation with the Bowdens

The Bowden family has been coming to Panama City Beach, Fla., on the Fourth of July since 1966. The numbers have grown from 8 to 32, including 20 grandchildren.

We affectionately call Panama City the "Redneck Riviera." As comedian Jeff Foxworthy would say, "If you ever bought your wife a confederate-flag bikini, you might be a redneck."

I've seen three so far this year.

On this day, we're having a friendly little golf game. My brother Jeff and I are playing against brother Tommy and my dad. That's two head coaches, one former head coach and an offensive coordinator. It's a good time to talk a little football and an even better time to have a little fun.

6:30 a.m.
Wake up.

7 a.m.
We have breakfast at the Waffle House. Immediately, we start talking about punt-team protection. I coached for 20 years and the protection scheme never changed – zone protection; bucket-step, stab and release. Now it seems like people are changing protections and formations every week, and there are a lot more punts blocked. Sometimes I think we outcoach ourselves.

Bowden football


The three head-coaching Bowdens each have had a perfect season.

If I ever got back into coaching I'm not sure I couldn't be successful on offense using base personnel only (one tight end and two backs). Versatility doesn't have to come from using a million different personnel groupings. You can be just as unpredictable by making sure you get the ball to all five possible backs and receivers and by being equally willing to run or throw the ball on first and 10 as well as third and 1. We won our first 20 games at Auburn in 1993-94 doing this, and I don't think football has changed all that much.

7:30 a.m.
We start playing golf and dad plays from the senior tees. You shouldn't be allowed to coach Division I-A football and hit from the senior tees. Having coached in the SEC, I immediatiately start calling them the ACC tees.

When we're on vacation we play by what we call Panama City rules. It allows the game to go quickly and keeps the scores from getting too high. When we arrive at the golf course, we tee off as fast as we can to beat everyone else off the first tee. Because we don't warm up we take an automatic par on the first hole and an automatic bogey on the second hole.

From then on if you hit the ball out of bounds you move it straight out to the fairway and count one stroke. If you hit the ball in play but behind a tree or something, you can move it to where you have an open shot without counting a stroke. Other than that we pretty much play by normal USGA rules.

My dad told us a story about how Bear Bryant liked to play golf. Bear was playing with Tom McEwen, a former writer for The Tampa Tribune. When McEwen hit his first golf shot into the fairway he asked Bryant if he could roll the ball over.

"Yeah, you can roll it over in the fairway," said Bryant (who was in the rough) "and you can roll it over in the rough, too.

"And, you can roll it over in the sand."

McEwen replies: "You mean you can roll it over anywhere?"

The Bear says, "Yeah, that way nobody can cheat."

8:05 a.m.
Tommy says that Clemson was 10th on offense and seventh or eighth on defense last year in the ACC, and he had to make some drastic changes if they were going to challenge for an ACC title. He ended up hiring a new offensive and defensive coordinator. I think the hardest thing for a head coach to do is fire an assistant coach. You never get used to it.

8:37 a.m.
Larry and Wade of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., show up to do a newspaper story on the Bowden family. Larry is the writer and Wade is the photographer. Of the first 17 pictures Wade takes, 15 are of my dad. It reminds me of being back in Orlando when people come up to me and say, "I just love you and your dad!" That means they love me this much (about a quarter of an inch between my thumb and index finger) and my father this much (the full extension of my arms). I'll be anxious to see the article.

9:08 a.m.
Jeff (FSU's offensive coordinator) tells us he visited the Tennessee Titans earlier this summer to talk with Norm Chow. Chow has been ultrasuccessful with offenses and quarterbacks everywhere he has been, and Jeff was hoping to pick his brain for a couple of good ideas. With the problems FSU is having at the quarterback position, it's not a bad idea. And yes, if you were wondering, there are some things we discuss that I'm not allowed to divulge to you.

9:52 a.m.
Tommy gets a call from his daughter Lauren, who is taking her last final at Clemson before she drives down to the beach. It must have been a geography test because I overhear Tommy say, "All I know is that North America is a continent, Florida is a peninsula, and Texas and Alaska are the largest states." Tommy was not a great student.

10:30 a.m.
I finally get around to asking Jeff, Tommy and dad about a playoff in college football. They all are against it. Tommy and dad think it will make the season too long, and Jeff sees it as being more work for the assistant coaches.

I tried to explain that with a 12th game, a conference championship and a bowl game, they already are looking at the possibility of 14 games. Besides, with the way Florida State and Clemson have been playing, a playoff actually would mean a shorter season for them. They didn't laugh.

10:40 a.m.
I'm so bad they're giving me a mulligan per hole, and that's not even Panama City rules.

11:15 a.m.
I can't believe what I just saw. A teenage boy walks up to my father with a camera in his hand, and my dad reaches out to shake his hand and asks if he wants a picture. The boy says no, but would Dad please take a picture of him and Coach Tommy?

I love it.

Thank goodness the golf game finally ends. Jeff and I beat Tommy and the old man by two strokes.

One of the best things about our summer vacation is that when it's over we all put the golf clubs away and start focusing totally on football. The players report for two-a-days in less than four weeks. I can't wait.