Bruce Fowler has been named Furman University’s new head football coach, director of athletics Dr. Gary Clark announced today at an 11:00 a.m. gathering of university supporters at the Younts Center on campus.
Fowler, a Cincinnati, Ohio, native who served as an assistant coach on the Paladin staff for 16 years before spending the last nine seasons in the capacities of defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Vanderbilt University, becomes the 22nd head coach in the history of Furman football, which dates from 1889. He succeeds Bobby Lamb, who resigned his head coaching duties at the end of the recently completed 2010 football campaign.
“While our search for our new head football coach was national in scope, we recognized early on in the process the many outstanding qualities Bruce Fowler presented us,” said Clark in making the announcement. “We are convinced he possesses one of the country’s top football minds, outstanding leadership ability, a strong work ethic and proven track record of player development, plus impeccable integrity that we are confident will be a positive and motivating influence on our players, program, university, and Greenville community.”
“I am thrilled with the tremendous opportunity to be the next head football coach at Furman University, my alma mater,” said Fowler. “Through the years I have been fortunate to work for and with many outstanding coaches and players. I look forward to continuing and building on Furman football’s championship tradition. That will be our goal; to win championships and to represent Furman with the class, pride, and integrity it richly deserves.”
While at Vanderbilt, Fowler directed defenses that laid the groundwork for success the program had not enjoyed in a quarter century. In 2008 Vanderbilt, aided by a Commodore defense that ranked 15th nationally in pass defense, 21st in scoring defense, and 30th in total defense, opened the campaign with a five-game winning streak, including a September victory over South Carolina and a 14-13 thriller over Auburn with ESPN’s popular College GameDay show broadcasting from the Nashville campus. After the Auburn win, the Commodores were ranked No. 13 by the Associated Press, its highest ranking in more than 50 years. Vanderbilt went on to post its first winning season since 1982, and only its the fourth winning season since 1959, by going 7-6 and recording a 16-14 triumph over Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. It marked the first bowl victory by a Commodore squad since the 1955 Gator Bowl.
Other team highlights during Fowler’s tenure at Vanderbilt included a 28-24 triumph over Tennessee in 2005, which snapped a 23-game losing skid to the Volunteers and marked the Commodores’ first victory in Knoxville since 1975; the school’s first victory over a ranked road foe, a 24-22 decision over No. 16 Georgia in 2006; and a 17-6 win at No. 6 South Carolina in 2007 — the first triumph over a Top 10-ranked foe in 33 years and program’s highest ranked victim since 1937.
In terms of player development, five former Commodore defenders during the Fowler tenure — Myron Lewis, D.J. Moore, Jonathan Goff, Jovan Haye, and Hunter Hillenmeyer — were selected in the National Football League (NFL) Draft. Lewis is currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Moore and Hillenmeyer are with the Chicago Bears, and Goff and Haye are starters for the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans, respectively. Two others, Curtis Gatewood and Reshard Langford, are also on NFL rosters. Nine different Vanderbilt defenders earned All-Southeastern Conference honors during Fowler’s tenure.
In addition to the improvement in on-the-field competitiveness, Vanderbilt’s football program was recognized nationally by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) as the recipient of the organization’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) 2008 Academic Achievement Award for highest graduation rate (95 percent) for freshmen entering in 2001.
Fowler paved the way for his move to Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with a 16-year assistant coaching tenure at Furman that helped produce one of the greatest eras of football achievement in school history, including a 146-70-3 record (.674), 1988 NCAA I-AA national championship, eight Southern Conference (SoCon) championships, and nine playoff appearances.
He began his collegiate coaching career in 1984 as a graduate assistant under Dick Sheridan and was on staff in the same capacity the following year when Furman went 12-2, defeated N.C. State (42-20) for a second consecutive season, won the SoCon championship, and finished as national runner-up.
In 1986 he was promoted to full-time as receivers coach under new head coach Jimmy Satterfield. In that role he oversaw the development of six All-SoCon performers, including wide receiver Donald Lipscomb, who played a pivotal role in the Paladins going 13-2 and winning the 1988 NCAA I-AA championship, as well as three straight SoCon titles (1988-89-90).
In 1993 he made the switch to defense, taking over the Paladin secondary. In five seasons in that capacity Fowler directed the fortunes of a half dozen all-conference performers, including SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and All-America free safety John Keith, a fourth round selection by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2000 NFL Draft.
Furman head coach Bobby Johnson promoted Fowler to defensive coordinator and put him charge of the Paladin linebackers in 1999 — a move that helped pave the way for a brilliant three-year run that netted a 30-9 record, including a 28-3 victory over North Carolina in 1999, SoCon championships in 1999 & 2001, three playoff appearances, and 12-3, national runner-up finish in ‘01.
In both 2000 & ‘01 linebacker Will Bouton, considered one of the finest defenders in Furman history, garnered both SoCon Defensive Player of the Year and All-America honors. In addition, in 2001 NCAA I-AA semifinal round playoff action Fowler’s Paladin defense slammed the door on Georgia Southern’s triple option attack in a 24-17 victory over the Eagles in Statesboro, snapping the Eagles’ NCAA record 39-game home winning streak and handing GSU its first ever home playoff game defeat.
He departed Furman following the 2001 season, accepting the defensive coordinator position at Vanderbilt under Johnson.
Fowler earned all-conference honors as a defensive back at Cincinnati’s Mariemont High School before joining the Paladin program as a walk-on in 1977 under Art Baker. He lettered two years as a cornerback and was a member of Furman’s first SoCon championship team in 1978 coached by Dick Sheridan. He started as a junior, racking up 35 tackles and a team leading three interceptions, and as a senior in 1980 helped Furman notch its second league crown.
He graduated in 1981 with a degree in physical eduction and began his coaching career as an assistant at nearby Wren (S.C.) High School, remaining there for three years before returning to Furman in 1984 as a graduate assistant. He later earned an M.A. in education from Furman.
Fowler and his wife, Lindy, a native of Ocala, Fla., and 1983 Furman graduate, have a son, Jake, 16, and a daughter, Maddie, 14.