“The throwin’ game is like a disease”

People forget that, at one time, Bobby Bowden was about as cutting edge as it got; his offenses in the 1970s and 1980s (and taken up in the early 1990s at Florida State by his assistants) had a huge impact on the game. More:

Jim Carlen, who succeeded Corum [at West Virginia] in 1966, had a limited knowledge of the passing game, but when he was running Georgia Tech’s defense he used to sit in Bobby Dodd’s office and listen to Dodd and Alabama coach Bear Bryant talk about how difficult it was for teams to defend the passing game.

“They would talk about throwing like it was a disease,” recalled Carlen. “Well, I knew the game was going to change a little bit if they could ever get to where they could let the offensive line block like they are letting them do now – tackle them – and I said, ‘We’re going to have a throwing attack of some kind.’

“When I was defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech we only played run,” Carlen added. “Throwing was like a foreign element.”

Carlen had met Bobby Bowden a few times when the Georgia Tech and Florida State coaches would get together during the summertime for clinics, and he immediately realized that Bowden was a bright, innovative coach who understood the passing game.

“What I knew about Bobby was I knew he knew the throwin’ game and I knew he was kind of a fool-‘em coach; he ran trick plays and stuff,” said Carlen. “My whole system was run the veer and the wishbone and run the ball all the time. I had just never been around the throwing game.”

That’s the main reason why he hired Bowden to run his offense at West Virginia. Carlen may have hired Bowden to throw the ball, but he rarely let him do it the way Bowden wanted to do it during their four seasons coaching together at West Virginia. During one game WVU was comfortably winning, Bowden wanted to call a halfback pass, but Carlen got on the headsets and ordered no more passes. When Carlen got off, Bowden decided to call the play anyway in open defiance of his head coach, and it was only after objections from the rest of the offensive coaches that Bowden stopped the play from going in.

The one year Carlen let Bowden open up the offense in 1968, quarterback Mike Sherwood threw for 1,998 yards and 12 touchdowns, setting the school single-game passing record with 416 yards in a big 38-15 win at Pitt.

Sherwood’s reward for his brilliant passing in 1968 was fewer throws in 1969 when Carlen went to a veer offense with Jim Braxton, Bob Gresham and Eddie Williams in the backfield. In the 1969 Peach Bowl, after Carlen ordered Bowden to install the wishbone at the end of the season, Sherwood tried just two passes for the entire game, completing one.

“I sent (Bowden) and Jack Fligg out to Oklahoma to get the veer, and then out to Texas to get the wishbone,” said Carlen. “He didn’t want to do it and I said, ‘Bobby we’re going to do it. We’ve got running backs here.’”

When Carlen left to take the Texas Tech job immediately after the ’69 Peach Bowl, it was only then that the shackles were finally removed from Bowden’s offense once he took over as West Virginia’s head coach.

Bowden Ball

In 1972, Bernie Galiffa became the first quarterback in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season (2,496 yards) to lead the sixth-best passing attack in the country. West Virginia won eight games in ’72, and with exciting players such as Danny Buggs, Marshall Mills, Nate Stephens and Kerry Marbury frequently scoring touchdowns, Mountaineer fans were always on the edge of their seats.

“Because of the offense that we ran, we weren’t out of any game,” explained Galiffa.

Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti could sense Bowden’s irritation whenever he called too many running plays in a row.

“He was the kind of guy who liked it wide open,” Cignetti recalled. “Man, if you didn’t have 21 points on the board in the first four or five minutes … I’ll never forget one day we were out there and we were running the ball against Miami and he gets on the phone and he says, ‘Frank, don’t you have faith in your quarterback? Let him throw the football!’”

But when Galiffa graduated and subsequent quarterbacks either didn’t pan out or got hurt, Bowden was forced to become more conservative and his teams weren’t nearly as successful. In 1974, when he was down to his fourth string quarterback, freshman Dan Kendra, West Virginia went 4-7 and Bowden nearly lost his job.

“The year I was at West Virginia and we went 4-7, I lost the first and second team quarterbacks and had to start a pure freshman who wasn’t even close to being ready,” said Bowden. “History loses all of that.”

When Bowden left for Florida State after the 1975 season, West Virginia’s passing game became a practice in self-mutilation, Mountaineer quarterbacks combining to throw a staggering 68 interceptions during a three-year period from 1976-78 before Oliver Luck eventually stabilized the situation when Don Nehlen took over the program in 1980.

  • Allen Ellis

    Didn’t realize Coach Bowden had two quarterbacks named Dan Kendra in his coaching career thought that was a typo until I looked it up.

  • Allen Ellis

    Didn’t realize Coach Bowden had two quarterbacks named Dan Kendra in his coaching career thought that was a typo until I looked it up.

  • Thishp

     For more spread offense videos go to the most complete library of college spread offenses at http://www.youtube.com/user/SpreadIllustrated

  • It was actually Dan Kendra, Sr. at WVa and Dan Kendra, Jr. at FSU.  The younger Kendra came to FSU as a QB, but ended up playing fullback in a limited career.

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    If the throwing game is a disease, Gary Crowton is Alexander Fleming

  • Lawdy15

     Father and son.  Dan Kendra’s (the younger) dad played for Bobby at WVU, and then obviously Dan played high school ball in Pennsylvania and then signed with an older Bobby Bowden at FSU.

  • Lawdy15

    Thanks for clarifying that they were Jr. and Sr.

    Dan Jr. would have been a great college quarterback had he not gotten his knee ruined in the spring game immediately prior to the year he was set to take over as the starting QB.  As a result of this, FSU started putting the green jersey on the QB in spring games to avoid similar catastrophic injuries.  By the time Dan (Jr.) rehabbed his knee, two things realistically prevented him from being the starting QB yet again…one was a guy named Chris Weinke, and another was the fact that Kendra (an obsessive weightlifter) had gained even more muscle mass during his rehab period and pretty much bulked himself out of the position.  He actually made a pretty solid FB and had a shot in the NFL, and inexplicably walked away from a key role on an NFL team (believe it was the Colts…?) in the preseason (most assume injuries had taken a toll).