LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala.- It was when legendary football coach, Bobby Bowden, came to speak at an Athens church that changed now Limestone County Schools Athletics Director, Rusty Bates, life forever.
Bates said as an elementary school student, he was glued to everything Bowden was speaking and preaching about.
Former head coach for Florida State University, Bowden left an undeniable legacy that surpassed the 33 years he coached the Seminoles on the field.
“Afterwards he went to the door to shake hands like they normally do and he shook my hand and started talking to me, not just about football, but fishing and hunting, it may have been maybe 30 seconds but it felt like a lifetime to me and I was a Seminole for life that day,” Bates said.
It’s how he made people feel that was one of his best qualities, “He made everyone feel like they were important,” so naturally, Bates would follow the coach he respected so much.
From attending Coach Bowden’s football camps as a high school student to helping coach the camps as a young coach himself, it was in those moments that Bates was able to see Bowden in a different light but as close as he was to him, whether it be on the gridiron or in the office after a camp, Bowden was always the same person.
“He was genuine, everything he did, he was real, it wasn’t like you saw a coach on the side-line one way and then when he got to the public, another way,” Bates told News 19.
It was those moments, in between drills or at a game where Bates learned not just the skills to be a successful coach, but life lessons that shaped him into the man he is today.
It was Bowden’s faith-based mantra that really resonated with Bates and still does after all these years.
“If I’ve heard him say it once at camps, I’ve heard him say it a hundred times. Everything was faith first, family second, and football third and he always said it in that order, I never, he never veered away from that and he lived his life that way. It was amazing,” Bates said.
But, to Bates what made Bowden larger than life was how he handled those adverse times on the field that truly inspired the young coaches who looked up to him.
“His faith, his walk, how he handled himself even in stressful situations, I look back to the missed field goals, the three wide rights that cost us a national championship and he had not won one then, but he still stood before those cameras every year after those games and he owned up to his mistakes,” Bates said.
Bates says men like Coach Bowden are few and far between, but the way he took a challenge head-on, leaving an established program in West Virginia and took a chance at a Florida State, that didn’t have an established program, set him apart from the rest, “He always said, God called him there and that was implemented into me, sometimes it’s not the most glamourous, but it’s where we’re supposed to be.”