-- The coaching legacy of Bobby Bowden is an enduring one. The Hall of Fame coach won 357 games and two national championships in 40 seasons at West Virginia and Florida State. Three of his four sons are college coaching lifers: Terry is the head coach at Akron, where his brother Jeff is an assistant. Tommy won 90 games in 11-plus seasons at Tulane and Clemson.
Yet if anyone has carried the legacy of Bobby Bowden into the modern game, it is the coach who has led Clemson into the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year. Dabo Swinney is a flowering branch of the Bowden coaching tree. There are plenty of similarities between the coaches, right up to their reaction when called about the comparison.
"I take that as a compliment," Swinney, 47, said one day after practice last week.
"That's a compliment," Bowden, 87, said from his home in Tallahassee last Friday.
They are not close and don't pretend to be. If Swinney has a mentor, an older coach who serves as a sounding board and a resource, it's Gene Stallings, his coach and boss at Alabama. But if you stop and take a closer look, Swinney reminds you of Bowden.
Both men have never-met-a-stranger personalities, friendliness that endures after the cameras and microphones are turned off. Both have a deep and abiding Christian faith. And both men, friendly and godly though they may be, have an innate competitiveness that fuels them, as Bowden once famously said, "until the echo of the whistle."
"I think he's been a great example to a lot of people out there," Swinney said of Bowden, "on how we should all try to live our life."
Their personal histories echo one another. Swinney was born in Birmingham, where Bowden was born and raised, and grew up just south of town. Swinney's mother attended Woodlawn High, Bowden's alma mater.
"He walked on at Alabama, and I did, too," Bowden said. "I went in January and went through spring training. They had a no-married rule. I left and went to Samford, which was Howard College back then."
Swinney neither played nor coached for Bowden. But when Swinney walked on as a wide receiver in Tuscaloosa in 1989, his position coach was Tommy Bowden. They were together for only one season, but the relationship endured.
"I can remember Tommy talking about him," Bowden said of Swinney. "He was one of those guys who was going to give you 100 percent, and he earned a letter on the team."
When Swinney returned to coaching in 2003 after two years in the business world, he returned to coach wide receivers at Clemson for Tommy Bowden. Swinney certainly had heard stories from Tommy about his father. Swinney doesn't remember exactly when they met, just that he walked across the field before a Clemson-Florida State game and introduced himself.
In December 2006, Swinney recruited DeAndre McDaniel, a defensive back from Godby High in Tallahassee.
"A big-time recruit," Swinney said. "We head down to Tallahassee. I'm going to take Coach [Tommy] Bowden to the school. I'm going to take him over to the home visit to see the parents and all that. And we got down there, we had some extra time built in. Coach Bowden's like, 'Hey, let's stop by and see Daddy.'
"In the back of my mind," Swinney said, "I'm going, 'You know, we're decked out in Clemson stuff, and we're going to see Daddy?'"
They walked into the football office, where Tommy was greeted by everyone as if he were the boss' son, not the coach of a conference rival.
"Of course, he just barges right into his office," Swinney said.
Bobby Bowden is sitting at his desk, feet up, watching video of the Seminoles' bowl opponent. He hopped up and hugged his son, and as soon as they sat down to chat, Tommy decides to walk down the hall and say hello to the other coaches.
"So he leaves!" Swinney said, "Here I sit. It's just me and Bobby Bowden. I'm just sitting in this man's office, and he's just looking at me. And I'm just, in my mind, I'm going, 'I am sitting in Bobby Bowden's office. Tommy just sees him as Daddy. That's all he thinks. I'm going, 'This is Bobby Bowden!' So for the next 10 minutes or so, Tommy was gone, we just sat and talked. Talked about Alabama and Woodlawn and my mom. He was just so kind, it was just awesome. He was asking me about my family. I never forgot that."
A couple of years later, Clemson fired Tommy Bowden at midyear and made Swinney the interim head coach. One of the first congratulatory calls he received was from Bobby Bowden. But still, when the Seminoles came to Clemson later that season, Swinney fretted.
"I was so worried about it, because I'm like, man, this is gonna be awkward," he said. "I'll never forget it, walking out there to greet him. In fact, I've got a picture of it. And he just was like, 'Hey, boy. How you doin'?'"
Swinney sent Bobby Bowden a copy of the photo and asked him to sign and return it. It hangs in Swinney's office to this day.
Swinney went 1-1 against Bobby Bowden, a record he does not mention. At the College Football Hall of Fame dinner earlier this month, Swinney made sure to stop by the Bowden table and see Tommy, Terry, Bobby and Bobby's wife, Ann.
There are two other ways in which Swinney's career looks like Bobby Bowden redux. Swinney, like Bowden, must deal with the public assumption that his return to Alabama as a head coach is a slam-dunk eventuality. Bowden never got there, and Swinney seems too smart to be the guy who replaces Nick Saban.
And Swinney, like Bowden, wins. Swinney's winning percentage is .757, a nose ahead of Bowden's .740. Swinney was born in November 1969, weeks before Bowden got his first FBS head-coaching gig at West Virginia. If Swinney continues to emulate Bowden, he will coach until he is 80, in 2049. The way things are going, Clemson would be OK with that.