Retired state trooper provides Bowden's security
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden doesn't stray far on game days without his longtime companion and game-day protector, former state trooper Billy Smith. The two have been together during the best, and worst, of times.
Billy Smith was dispatched to Bowden's home late at night to inform him that his grandson and former son-in-law were killed in a car wreck days before Florida State's season opener at Miami five years ago.
"That was probably, for me, the toughest thing I've ever had to do," said Smith, 78. "It was a tough, tough situation."
Smith says Bowden's job status at Florida State is also troubling for the coach who turns 80 next month.
"Outside of the week of the death of his family members, this past week has been pretty tough for him," said Smith. "It's not something that all of a sudden is going to disappear. He's going to have to deal with it on a daily basis and keep doing the job he's capable of doing and I think things will turn out fine."
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Smith walked hand-in-hand with the much shorter, portly Bowden and Seminole players Saturday as the team came onto the field in a show of unity while the homecrowd applauded the gesture.
"I thought the fans treated him and the team as gracious as you could be treated," said Smith, who retired from the Florida Highway Patrol in 1985 after 32 years.
Bowden chuckled about their walk, thinking about the days the two could, and would, run onto the playing field together before a game.
"Now it's a very slow trot, both of us trying to keep up with each other," Bowden said.
"Every game that I've been here he's been there right by my side except for a couple games when he was sick," Bowden said. "It's very comforting to have him with you. He shoves anything in the way out of the way."
Smith is armed when he wears the uniform.
Bowden said there's been only one incident where he was threatened since coming to Florida State and he didn't know about it until after a game at South Carolina in the late 1980s.
"After the game there were highway patrolmen lining both sides of the path from the dressing room to the bus," Bowden said. "Bill told me that somebody had threatened me, told my secretary they were going to shoot me."
Bowden's longtime secretary, Sue Hall, had received a letter with a Pittsburgh, Pa., address from an individual who had apparently lost a significant amount of money the week before betting on college football and said he planned to kill the coach on Florida State's next out-of-town game.
Smith called South Carolina officials who provided plainclothes detectives and another 100 uniformed officers that night.
Smith had to persuade Bowden to skip the postgame autograph and picture sessions with fans and hightail it to a car pulled up alongside the stadium to get him to the airport.
Bowden recalled some occasions during his six years as head coach at West Virginia before coming to Florida State in 1976 when he could've used some protection.
"When I came off the field you had to walk through a little lane with spectators on both sides either cheering or yelling at you," Bowden recalled. "A guy took a swing one time, but he didn't get me."
Smith and Bowden are both Alabama natives. They have known each other since 1964 when Bowden was an assistant at Florida State and Smith became the security for former Seminole coach Bill Peterson, who had persuaded former Gov. Farris Bryant to allow a state trooper to accompany him for security purposes.
"I think what coach Peterson really wanted, and he loved publicity, he wanted the siren blowing and red lights flashing," Smith said.
In the intervening 45 years, Smith has missed only a half dozen games - one for his daughter's wedding and the others to resolve health issues. When Bowden replaced Darrell Mudra in 1976, he invited Smith to stay with him.
"It's more than a job, it's an honor to be asked to do it," said Smith, who joked that he started off on an unpaid basis and that it's been doubled every year. "I would just guess there is no law enforcement officer in the nation who has done this as long as I have. It's been a joy."