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Jeff Bower: My Coach of the Year, this, next, and every year

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Jeff Bower is the successful (43-35-1) coach of the University of Southen Mississippi Golden Eagles; the school where he was a record-setting quarterback from 1973 to 1975. As a coach, he has known a great deal of success (coaching Brett Favre, leading his team to two consecutive Conference USA titles and two bowl trips) and, also, has suffered his fair share of setbacks.

Both success and discouragement have forged the foundation of the man that has been high on the list of potential replacement coaches at several "big time" college programs during the past two seasons (Wyoming and Arkansas, just to name a couple of his suitors). Yet, this past fall through a tragic accident and the manner in which he handled the ultimate adversity, Bower became much more than a coach; he became a sterling example of everything that is right in the profession.

In the early morning hours of September 13, 1997, Bower was awakened by the knock on the door that every parent dreads: a sheriff deputy had come to inform Bower and his wife that their 17-year old daughter Kristen had been killed. In the wake of this devastating news, Bower did not succumb to the grief that most assuredly accompanies this type of reality. He did not quit on himself, his wife and 11 year-old daughter, Stephanie, nor his team. He dug down deep inside himself and discovered an inner strength that allowed him to go back to work and lead his USM team to an 8-3 regular season and conference title, and a berth in the Liberty Bowl. All the while, surely agonizing each and every second of each passing day over the loss of what his wife called, "Daddy's little apple".

I am the father of three small children and heaven forbid something ever happen to one of them. If devastation struck me, I am not certain that I could ever summon the courage to smile again; much less carry on with the daily rigors of my profession. Yet, Jeff Bowers did carry on and valiantly continued to lead and direct the lives of his players and staff.

To me, Jeff Bower has become my personal coach of the year, this year, next year, the year after, and possibly every year. The lessons he taught his players about courage, not giving up in times of pain and anguish, staying focused, and simple bravery are ones these young men will never forget and can draw upon in the future as they encounter failure and personal loss. He has become an inspiration not only for the 100-plus members of the Southern Miss football family, but also, to every father.

In this issue, we are examining the issue of catastrophic loss in our article entitled When Tragedy Strikes; and, in this story, we give you a much closer look at Jeff Bower and how his daughter's death reshaped his focus in a sidebar called The Toughest Loss.

It is my hope that each of you will learn something from the experience of Coach Bowers and rethink your personal lives, family and careers.

As always, if there is ever anything I can do to help you or your program, please feel free to call me at 561-355-5068.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Terranova


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