Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden's 389 career victories is second only to Joe Paterno's 409 at Penn State.
ALBANY — Bobby Bowden, the legendary former coach at Florida State who shares a friendship and rich football history with Joe Paterno, said Friday he was shocked by the news of the child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State involving Paterno’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Friday’s interview with The Albany Herald marked Bowden’s first public comments since Paterno was fired late Wednesday, and Bowden added that he felt his longtime friend was “negligent” in failing to do more to stop it.
“It’s sad what happened at Penn State,’’ Bowden said as he spoke at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon at Doublegate Country Club. “Joe was a little negligent.’’
Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier were both fired in the fallout of a shocking days-old grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between Sandusky and boys as young as 10 during a span of 15 years, sometimes in Penn State’s facilities.
The grand jury report said that administrators did not contact law enforcement authorities after a graduate assistant for the football team said he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 years old in the locker room showers at the team’s practice center in 2002.
Top school officials, including Paterno and Spanier, say they weren’t told about the seriousness of the matter.
Bowden said Friday that was no excuse.
Sandusky has been aware of the accusations against him for about three years and has maintained his innocence, his lawyer has said. Sandusky was arrested and charged over the weekend, setting off a chain of events that Bowden said he is still having a hard time wrapping his head around.
After his speech, Bowden sat down one-on-one with The Herald and made no bones that he was sickened by the accusations of child molestation.
“It’s a shocking story,’’ Bowden said. “The worst thing is what the guy did to those boys, then the second thing is the fact that Penn State kept it quiet. They could have stopped it, about eight years of it, or nine years of it. Now you had eight, nine years. There’s no telling how many kids were affected after that.’’
Bowden added that he and Paterno have not talked since news of the scandal broke, and Bowden said he didn’t feel it was the right time to call Paterno this week after Paterno lost his job.
“No, I haven’t talked to Joe,’’ Bowden said. “I probably won’t. Because I can imagine the mental, the mental feeling he’s in right now.’’
Bowden said he wouldn’t even know what to say to Paterno right now.
“I don’t know what Joe will do, because I don’t know what his lawyer is going to tell him to do. All I can do is sympathize with him,” he said.
Paterno supporters, meanwhile, are upset because of the way Penn State fired the legendary coach, who said early in the afternoon Wednesday he would resign at the end of the season, but then was later fired the same day when an envelope reportedly was delivered to him at his home with instructions to call a phone number linked to the Penn State board of trustees. After spending 45 years at Penn State, Paterno called the number and was told he had been dismissed.
Bowden, however, said Friday he wasn’t bothered by the way Paterno was let go.
“No, I wouldn’t say that (I was bothered by that),’’ Bowden said. “The thing is ... How much did he know? I don’t know. Just listening to him talk, he must have known more than he should have said. Because he said (when the scandal first broke), ‘I wish I would have done more.’
“He’ll face up to it.’’
Bowden said with all the salacious allegations surrounding the program and Sandusky, he wasn’t surprised Paterno was fired.
“I know this,’’ Bowden began, “there’s no nice way to dismiss somebody. That’s not what upsets me. What happened to those young boys is what upsets me. It shouldn’t have happened because somebody didn’t report it. They could have cut it out eight or nine years ago.’’
Bowden and Paterno are longtime friends, two legends who are forever linked as the game’s top two winningest coaches in college football history, even swapping the lead years ago. Paterno had 409 wins when he was fired, and Bowden, who was forced out of his job at FSU two years ago, finished with 389. Bowden just turned 83 this week. Paterno is 84. They were inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame together in 2006.
“Me and Joe are pretty dog-gone close,’’ Bowden said Friday.
Bowden, a devout Christian who speaks at Christian functions and churches all around the country, also said he knew Sandusky for years.
“I knew him like I know you folks,’’ he told the group at the luncheon. Nonetheless, Bowden said he was stunned at what Sandusky had been accused of.
“I’ve known (Jerry) for years,’’ Bowden said. “When I was at West Virginia we played them every year for 10 years. When I heard (about the scandal), I couldn’t believe it. He was one of the nicest guys you ever met.’’
Bowden also talked Friday about FSU’s issues with a cheating scandal a few years ago and how the president of the university turned FSU in to the NCAA. He also pointed to the recent scandal at Ohio State, where coach Jim Tressel was fired because he knew his players were making money selling Buckeye memorabilia, then Tressel tried to cover it up.
Bowden said “it was a lesson to be learned,” that you are just better off turning yourself in, but added emphatically that those scandals were nothing compared to the sex scandal at Penn State.
“This is different,’’ Bowden said. “This has got too much morality to it. This is a sin. The old term sin. People think sin has gone away, but it ain’t gone away.’’
Morality was a popular topic for Bowden on Friday while speaking to the FCA.
He talked about how God has been kicked out of the schools and how the morality of the nation has changed over the years — how families have disappeared.
“I was asked in 2006 if boys have changed over the years,’’ Bowden said. “I surprised them and said, ‘No, boys haven’t changed. The parents have changed.’ ”
Bowden estimated that out of 100 players at FSU, 70 percent of them did not have fathers at home, and he talked about how important it was for the FCA to save souls and lives for Christ.
He told of a four-day FCA camp he attended during which every youngster — 300 in all — came to Christ at the end of the camp, and he compared it to his home church in Tallahassee, where on a good Sunday you might get seven to come to the alter.
As always, Bowden peppered his speech with levity and anecdotes, saying his marriage worked because he and his wife, Ann, had a deal.
“We made a deal we would never go to bed mad,’’ Bowden said, before pausing and adding with a smile, “so we stayed up all night fighting.’’
His message, however, was clear about his feelings for the FCA, and how it is more important in today’s world than ever.
If Bowden hadn’t become a football coach, is there a chance he would have made a heck of a preacher?
“Naw,’’ laughed Bowden at the suggestion. “I just never felt I was good enough for that.’’