October 04, 2014
Former West Virginia head coach Bobby Bowden, left, with his wife Ann attend a ceremony where he was awarded the WVU Outstanding Alumni Award during halftime of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Chris Ja
Chris Jackson

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Four decades after West Virginia fans nearly ran him out of town, Bobby Bowden was welcomed back Saturday.

The 84-year-old coaching great was honored at halftime of West Virginia's game with Kansas, receiving loud applause when he was introduced. He and wife Ann also were marshals of the school's homecoming parade Friday.

''It means a whole lot to me,'' Bowden, wearing a gold blazer, blue tie and yellow rose on his lapel, told reporters afterward.

It was Bowden's first trip to Milan Puskar Stadium, which opened in 1980. Bowden said he used to play golf on the course where the stadium now stands.

Bowden was with the Mountaineers for 10 seasons, including six as head coach. He left after the 1975 season for a long career at Florida State.

He went 42-26 at West Virginia and took the Mountaineers to two bowl games - a feat no previous coach at the school had accomplished.

The loud applause from the crowd on Saturday contrasted with a time that fans weren't so nice.

His decisions were questioned in his first season, when the Mountaineers finished 8-3. In a homecoming loss to Duke, West Virginia punted from the Duke 31 and the ball went into the stands. The following week, West Virginia led archrival Pittsburgh 35-8 at halftime but lost 36-35.

The Pitt loss was ''the darkest day of my coaching profession,'' Bowden said. ''I never sat on the ball again after that.''

In 1974, Bowden endured almost daily criticism during a 4-7 season.

Some students put a sheet outside a dormitory window across the street from his office that read ''Bye-Bye Bobby.'' A ''For Sale'' sign was planted on the front lawn of his Morgantown home. His effigy was hung from a tree on campus.

Bowden called it his worst season in coaching.

''They tried to fire me and probably should have,'' Bowden said, adding that the university president and athletic director stood behind him. ''I've learned to live with that. That's the nature of the darn game.''

Bowden stuck around another season. After a Peach Bowl win in 1975, he was hired away by Florida State, but four of his six children stayed behind and graduated from West Virginia. He spent the next 34 seasons with the Seminoles, winning national championships in 1993 and 1999.

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