Akron coach Terry Bowden recognizes Paul Chryst, Pitt

Terry Bowden grew up in Morgantown and attended West Virginia. For fun, he and his friends would make the hour-plus trip to the big city of Pittsburgh to go shopping at the South Hills mall. He'd watch Terry Bradshaw sling it at Steelers training camp in Latrobe.

So yes, the Akron coach can probably tell you more about Saturday's opponent and the Western Pennsylvania region than many within the Pitt program.

Like the difference between old Heisman winner Tony Dorsett and the nation's current top rusher, James Conner.

"He would accelerate into a crack like you never saw anybody do it," Bowden says of Dorsett. "This guy (Conner) will make the crack. He'll make the hole, and then run through it."

Or the excitement of the Pirates clinching consecutive postseason berths.

"That's awesome. I go back to Willie Stargell. I go back to chicken on the Hill and Bob Prince," he says of the announcer's famous call.

Or the worst loss his dad, the legendary Bobby Bowden, experienced during his 44-year head-coaching career.

"He'll tell you: It was 36-35 to Pitt," Terry Bowden says. "He was winning 35-8 at halftime, in his first year as a head coach in college at West Virginia, and they played it it too tight and (Pitt) decided they would not punt on fourth, they were just gonna go for it because they thought they were gonna get run off the field, and they made every one. And by the time they made every fourth down the last one was at the end of the game to win the game, 36-35."

More importantly, the third-year Zips coach can point to the third-year Panthers coach he'll be squaring off against this weekend and notice plenty of similarities, from the stamp each is trying to put on his program to the coaching bloodlines that carried each into his chosen profession.

Paul Chryst, of course, is the son of the late George Chryst, a beloved figure on the Wisconsin-Platteville campus who served as head coach for 14 years before his sudden death at the age of 55, in 1992. Bowden, who like his father Bobby and brother Tommy has a coach of the year award to his name, knows such exposure to that life as a child rubs off.

"I feel real fortunate to have grown up the way I did," Chryst said. "You don't know as a kid, you only know what your life is, and when you look back and reflect on it, it's a great way to grow up, and so I was kind of attracted to the profession that way, a ton of respect, look up to your dad; there's a lot of kids that want to be like their dad.

"I think what it was is you're just around the game probably more so than Xs and Os. By the time I was really serious into coaching, my dad had passed away. I was just getting into it. But I think it was just being around it, being around the game, and the people."

Says Bowden: "I've often said that being the son of a football coach, the biggest thing you know how to do is you know how how to act like a football coach -- when you win, when you lose, when you drop a couple of games, when you have to respond from a tough situation."

It doesn't get much tougher than what Bowden experienced at the end of last season, when separate car accidents during a four-day span in December took the lives of Akron assistant Alan "Tank" Arrington and nephew T.J. Bowden, the son of Zips assistant Jeff.

"It shakes your foundation," he says. "It makes you put football in perspective. When all is said and done, it brings your family together, and it brings your football family together. And you mourn together and you come together, and at end of the day you know that there's a bigger picture out there and things that we don't understand, but there's also the language -- people come together and grow from these experiences, and I think most of us here have."

Bowden says he's trying to take Akron to a place it's never been before, and he tries not to lose sight of the big picture. He jokes that you could be a heck of a coach in his family and still never be better than second-best. He knows the identity of the program he's facing Saturday, and he sees how close Chryst -- a coach he has no prior relationship with -- is to restoring that.

"I'm 58 now, but I'm always Bobby Bowden's son," he says. "Heck, that's my mentor. My dad's my mentor. All of us boys and his sons, we've tried to emulate our father."

The coach he'll meet at Heinz Field will likely nod in agreement.