Bobby Bowden

Former West Virginia University head coach Bobby Bowden attends a ceremony where he was given the WVU Outstanding Alumni Award during halftime at a game against Kansas in Morgantown in 2014. Bowden, who as WVU’s coach in 1971 offered a helping hand to Marshall after the tragic plane crash in 1970, will be the keynote speaker at Marshall’s 2020 Big Green Dinner and HERDSPYs awards on April 24 in Huntington.

In the rise of Marshall’s football program from the tragedy of the 1970 plane crash, Bobby Bowden played a crucial role.

Before he became the two-time national champion coach at Florida State, Bowden was the head coach at West Virginia University from 1970-75. There, he opened his doors to Marshall football coach Jack Lengyel and his staff to come to Morgantown and research the veer offense, digging into playbooks and game film. It was a key part of Lengyel and staff’s rebuilding of the Thundering Herd.

This spring, Marshall has invited Bowden to Huntington.

Bowden, a College Football Hall of Famer with 377 official career wins between WVU and Florida State, will be the keynote speaker at the 2020 Big Green Dinner and HERDSPYs awards. The event will begin at 7 p.m. April 24 at the Mountain Health Arena and Conference Center.

“Bobby Bowden is the perfect choice to speak at our annual HERDSPYs event, and I’m so glad he is going to make a return trip to the Mountain State,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said in a university release. “In 2020, Marshall Athletics has numerous events planned to honor and remember the 75 who died in the 1970 plane crash as part of the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. Bobby Bowden was so selfless and such a friend to Marshall during a tragic time, and him telling his story and his connection to our great university is going to make for a special night.”

The plane crash affected Bowden deeply. WVU petitioned the NCAA in 1970 to wear Marshall’s uniforms and play the Herd’s final game against Ohio. That request was denied. The Mountaineers did wear green crosses with the initials “MU” on their helmets for WVU’s 1970 finale against Maryland.

Most importantly, Bowden helped his Mountain State neighbors in their most trying time. That, former Marshall assistant Red Dawson said, is a gesture that will never be forgotten

“I love the man,” Dawson, Lengyel’s offensive coordinator, said in the university release. “He is a great man in both his convictions and his values. He is a Hall of Fame coach who will come up here and woo people when he speaks.

“He turned over the playbook to us in 1970, and that’s something that never would have happened today.”

After leaving Morgantown in 1976, Bowden turned the Seminoles into one of college football’s juggernauts. On top of national titles in 1993 and 1999, FSU finished in the top five of the Associated Press Top 25 poll every season from 1987-2000. That included wins in four Sugar Bowls, three Orange Bowls, two Fiesta Bowls and a Cotton Bowl.

For tickets and information, visit HerdZone.com or call 304-696-4661.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.