On Sunday, August 8, 2021, a great man passed from this world. While he was widely recognized for his impact as a football coach, Bobby Bowden’s spirit and influence extended far beyond a sports field. I got to know Bobby through his generous participation in several of our research studies of expert coaches. Our friendship grew from there. One of the highlights of my time with Coach was when we shared the stage at the 2013 PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit. I posted a blog on how our time together that day concluded. It was a moving experience ripe with a valuable lesson I carry with me to this day. In tribute to Bobby, I’d like to share that post with you today. I will miss Coach, but for all those lucky enough to have known him, his inspirational influence lives on.
The Seed of Great Deeds
To conclude his recent presentation at the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit, Bobby Bowden was asked “Looking back over your 57 years in coaching, what is the take home lesson you would like to leave with us today?’ His reply: “Be kind.”
A few moments earlier, during the Question and Answer period, a golf professional stood at the microphone and thanked Coach Bowden for giving her a job washing football uniforms when she was a graduate student at Florida State University. The job, she told Coach, came with the benefit of ‘in-state tuition’–a significant cost reduction from ‘out of state’ tuition. She said there was no way she could have stayed in school at the time without the in-state tuition. For financially struggling graduate students this benefit can often exceed the pay they receive. While there was no way that he could have remembered who he hired to wash uniforms, Bobby told her he was glad he could help out. Later that day I was to discover there was a great deal more to the story.
In the hallway after the presentation, I saw the golf instructor and thanked her for sharing her story. She willingly provided additional detail. It seems the day Bobby hired her, her car was repossessed. That alone is traumatic, but she went on to say “I was living in my car at the time.” So not only had Nancy lost her transportation, but she was now homeless as well.
In the afternoons, after class, Nancy found a second job working at a golf course. This job provided her keys to the clubhouse and locker rooms. Because she had no other options, at night she would sneak back to the golf course to shower and sleep on the floor. This continued until the basketball coach found out about her dilemma and offered her a small apartment with a reasonable rent to be paid “when she could afford it.”
Nancy told me of another benefit of working for Coach Bowden–she had access to the morning training table. This provided her breakfast. As she would finish her daily duties of laundering the dozens of stained and sweat-soaked football uniforms, the player’s lunch was being prepared. She was able to get a sandwich and some fruit to carry her through the day as she left for classes.
Hiring students to wash football uniforms was not something that would ever find its’ way onto Bobby Bowden’s “Top 10 List of Accomplishments.” At best, it may be considered an act of kindness by a coach who appreciated clean football uniforms. But on closer inspection, that act allowed a deserving student the opportunity to complete a graduate degree–a degree that launched a career in the golf industry. Coach Bowden’s small act of kindness led to a great accomplishment. For you see, Nancy Quarcelino didn’t just become a golf instructor. She became a great golf instructor. In 2001, she was recognized as the LPGA’s National Teacher of the Year. For decades now, GOLF Magazine identifies her as one of America’s Top 100 Golf Instructors. And perhaps most fitting: on the very day she thanked Coach Bowden for giving her a job in a time of desperate need, Nancy Quarcelino found out that she will be inducted into the LPGA Teaching Hall of Fame–one of only 23 people to ever have earned that honor. From an inconsequential act of kindness came a remarkable achievement.
As Nancy concluded her story, I could hear Coach Bowden’s final words to his audience that morning ringing in my ears: “Be kind.” In that sage advice may just lay the seed of great deeds.