The Wolfpacker

Sept./Oct. 2021

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 49 of 51

50 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER I t was a seminal moment for Atlantic Coast Conference football, long before anyone knew it. Who knew that two coaches with one foot out the door at their respective jobs would have such a lasting impact on the league? Yet in 1975, NC State coach Lou Holtz and West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden met on the defective field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for the eighth annual Peach Bowl, the second time in four years the two coaches — already long-time friends — and their teams squared off against each other. The outcome of the game was significant. Bowden's Mountaineers left the field with a 13-10 victory, and soon after, Bowden left Charleston, W.Va., for Tallahassee, Fla., while Holtz left NC State for an ill-fated turn in the NFL. A little-known storyline from that game, however, was that a young defensive second- ary coach for the Wolfpack named Chuck Amato met Bowden at a pre-bowl luncheon, a fortuitous event that changed the younger coach's fortunes forever. Bowden, who died on Aug. 8, 2021, at age 91, long ago adopted Amato as his fourth football-coaching son, along with Terry, Tommy and Jeff. Bowden and his wife of 72 years also had another son, Steve, and two daughters, Ginger and Robyn. Amato climbed into the family tree by do- ing something better than any coach Bowden ever hired: He went into Miami, met all the right (and sometimes wrong) people and picked the best football talent South Florida had to offer for the Seminoles. Bowden first hired Amato in 1982, after the former NC State player (1965-67) and assis- tant coach (1971-79) spent two years in Ari- zona working for Larry Smith. On a trip to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' spring workouts, Amato and another coach drove over to Talla- hassee to visit with Bowden, who had just lost a defensive assistant to Tennessee. Amato was such a natural fit for the program that Bowden arranged for a realtor friend to give the young coach and his wife a house rent-free while they sold their home in Arizona. In a stroke of brilliance, Bowden moved his offensive coordinator, George Henshaw, to the Florida Panhandle for recruiting and put Amato in the fast lane of South Beach. Amato's recruiting was legendary, and his strategic intuition about how best to deploy Bowden — knowing when the head coach should come down to close the deal on the best players and when he should stay at arm's length — was perfect. Amato became a trusted confidante of the Seminole head coach, as well as an accom- plished defensive coach and assistant head coach for a program that won national cham- pionships in 1993 and '99. In 1992, after years of competing as inde- pendents, the Seminoles made the Atlantic Coast Conference nationally relevant by com- ing in and dominating the league, winning outright or sharing 12 league titles in their first 14 years. Amato was anchored with Bowden in Tal- lahassee, and the only pull strong enough to uproot him and his family was the head coaching job at his alma mater, something he had coveted for nearly 20 years as the Wolfpack moored itself to Monte Kiffin, Tom Reed, Dick Sheridan and Mike O'Cain. Ama- to's wife, Peggy, a native of Raleigh, was also eager to return to her hometown. "The thing about Bobby was, he taught me how to be a head coach," Amato said. "And Ann taught my wife how to be a head coach's wife. They were so important to both of us." Just after the Seminoles won their second national title, Amato got the call he had long awaited, and Bowden was just as proud of him as when sons Terry and Tommy got their various head coaching jobs, including at Au- burn and Clemson, respectively. Bowden's lasting legacy in the ACC, how- ever, was that after he elevated it nationally, he helped elevate other programs by forcing them to compete with his Seminoles. They found ways to do that, and then they began finding ways to beat Bowden's team. No one did it more than Amato, whose 2001 Wolf- pack became the first ACC squad to win in Tallahassee and the first team of any kind to beat Bowden on Homecoming. There was no better picture of the impact of Bowden's legacy than watching him meet Amato at midfield after that game with a warm embrace, a big congratulatory smile and the direct order to, "Go enjoy this with your boys." "Because I'm a big crybaby, I had tears go- ing down my face as I was walking across the field," Amato remembered. Bowden promised to call him early the next week, and he did, not only to talk about the game but to express his joy and pride that Amato had done something no one else had ever done. Amato faced his mentor seven times when they were in the league together and posted a 4-3 record, better than Tommy (4-5) or Terry (who played for Bobby at West Virginia and never coached against him) ever did against their father. That didn't prevent him from staying in the family. Amato went back to Florida State to work for his mentor after he left NC State, and then he worked for Terry at Akron after Bobby retired. Amato never tired of visiting Bobby when he went back to Tallahassee, where one of his twin daughters also lives. In the 12 years since Bowden retired, the Seminoles have become less relevant on the national stage while they have gone through four head coaches. Other teams, including NC State, have beaten them regularly, and Clemson has supplanted them as the ACC's most dominant program. However, when Bowden and the Seminoles first arrived in 1992, the ACC was at best a sleepy regional conference with a couple of sporadic runs at relevance (Maryland's 1954 national title and Clemson's 1981 national title notwithstanding). Bowden forced the league to get better, something that was well remembered while they celebrated the coach's legacy. ■ Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE Rivalry With Bobby Bowden's Seminoles Helped Elevate ACC A longtime member of Bowden's Florida State staff, Chuck Amato (left) went 4-3 against his mentor during his head coaching tenure at NC State. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE ATHLETICS

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