TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles fulfilled a promise made to his late mother, Joan, that he would earn his college degree, walking across the stage at Mount St. Mary's University on Saturday 37 years after leaving school to enter the NFL.
Bowles missed the second day of Buccaneers rookie camp to attend the ceremony in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he addressed the graduating class and earned a standing ovation from the students and faculty. Bowles earned a Bachelor of Science degree in youth and community development.
"This is an amazing, amazing thing for me to be in a class with you," he told the students. "I'm more nervous now than I ever was speaking in a locker room at halftime."
Bowles left Temple University in 1986 to enter the NFL, signing with Washington as an undrafted free agent and winning Super Bowl XXII his second season. He would play in the NFL for eight seasons before joining the Green Bay Packers' player personnel staff from 1995 to 1996, and then beginning his coaching career at Morehouse in 1997.
He has coached at the NFL level since 2000, serving as head coach of the New York Jets from 2015 to 2018, winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2020 as defensive coordinator, and being named head coach after Bruce Arians' retirement in 2022, leading the Bucs to an NFC South title.
"I didn't get my degree, and my mother never said anything," Bowles told the audience. "She just went with it. And she let me go ahead and live my life. And she passed in 2009, and the only thing she asked me was to make sure I got my degree.
"I stuck with it, and here I am at 59. You're never too old to stop learning. You stop learning and you get old. You get old when you stop learning. So I say to you, Class of 2023 -- the future is yours, take it, grab it, run with it, be excited, be excited, every now and then, come back and thank your parents."
Joan died of cancer in 2009. Bowles was encouraged by his agent, Tony Agnone, a Mount St. Mary's alumnus, to return to school, and he completed his coursework in September.
"It was personal. It's not a limelight type of deal for me," Bowles said. "It's more or less honoring my mother and making sure I kept a promise that I could live with when she said something. And that's really all it was for me. And showing my kids at the same time -- with one in college, one getting ready to go to college and another one on the horizon -- hopefully they get some inspiration from this and it can help them as they go forward."
His oldest son, Todd Bowles Jr., is a defensive back at Rutgers, while his son Troy is set to graduate from Jesuit High School in Tampa and attend Georgia on a football scholarship. His youngest, Tyson, is in the sixth grade.
"Todd's success in football, both on the field as a player and on the sidelines as a coach, is not at all surprising given his work ethic and attention to detail. These same traits were evident in his assignments," director and associate professor of human services Timothy Wolfe said in a statement.
"A successful NFL coach obviously doesn't need to put in the extra work required to complete a bachelor's degree, but Todd is clearly the kind of person to keep his promises and finish what he starts."