Few college football coaches have as many connections in the coaching profession as Akron’s Terry Bowden.
Besides the fact the 60-year-old Bowden is in his 23rd year as a head coach, he’s part of the winningest coaching family in college football. His father, Bobby, is the second-winningest coach in major college history. His brothers, Terry, Tommy and Jeff, are life-long coaches.
Terry Bowden’s connections have helped rebuild a downtrodden Akron program.
The Zips’ roster has 36 transfer students, and 18 of them came from Power 5 Conference teams. There are four former Miami Hurricanes on the Zips’ roster and three former Ohio State Buckeyes.
Those players are helping a lot. Akron made its first bowl game in a decade last season and brings a 5-3 record into UB Stadium Thursday for a meeting with the University at Buffalo (1-6).
“My background is a lot different,” Bowden says. “I’ve been a head coach for 23 years, my dad 48 years, my brother Tommy 20 years. We have so many contacts in this business who coached for us. Mark Richt was my dad’s quarterback coach. Dabo Swinney was my brother’s coach. Jimbo Fisher was my quarterback. Nick Saban – my dad recruited him.”
Richt, Miami’s coach, worked under Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Swinney coached under and then succeeded Tommy Bowden at Clemson. Florida State’s Fisher played for Terry Bowden at Salem and Samford. Bobby Bowden was working at West Virginia in the late ‘60s when he scouted Alabama’s Saban.
“Every one of these guys is a family relationship,” Terry Bowden said, “where they can call me and say, ‘Hey, don’t go for this kid, or this kid’s something special and I just don’t have a place for him.’”
Among the special Zips transfers UB must contend with: Receiver JoJo Natson (Utah State), defensive ends Jamal Marcus and Se’Von Pittman (both from Ohio State), left tackle Logan Tulley-Tillman (Michigan), cornerback Larry Hope (Miami).
Natson ranks fifth in the Mid-American Conference in catches with 49 for 739 yards and eight TDs.
“We recruited him out of high school,” Bowden said. “He’s an explosive player. He makes big plays. He’s got very, very good speed and athletic ability.”
Bowden needed to do something extraordinary to jump-start Akron when he arrived in 2012. The Zips endured six straight losing seasons, including back-to-back 1-11s, before he was hired. He went 1-11 his first year. Two 5-7s followed. Last year the Zips went 8-5 and won the Idaho Potato Bowl.
“I’m trying to find out what Akron’s niche is,” he said. “What is Akron’s way of taking a team that went 1-11, 1-11, 1-11 and build that team up and infuse it with talent? You can ruin a team by having too many transfers.”
“But I look at the NFL and see what they draft and do in free agency and the chemistry of a team,” Bowden said. “And I know college people don’t like me to use the term free agency because it has a professional connotation. I’m just saying I’m thinking about the dynamics of building a football team. Take the New England Patriots. I’ve always felt they do a great job adding just the right free agent who has a year or two left. He fits a need.”
UB, by comparison, has 22 total transfers, 16 from junior colleges. UB has four Power-5 transfers, two of whom are sitting out this season. No other MAC program besides Akron had more than two Power 5 transfers on its two-deep roster to start the season.
“I don’t want to act like we got all the answers; we don’t,” Bowden said. “We’re just trying to find the right number. My goal would be sign every kid from Akron, Canton, Youngstown, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. That’s my local. It’s good football, and their parents come to games. We do South Florida, where I’m from and where the speed is. And we add some transfers because we know coaches who will tell us if it’s a good risk or a bad risk. That’s my niche, which I think is right for Akron. That’s the Akron strategy.”