The local high school football landscape lost a legendary figure on Sunday, when former Liberty Christian head football coach Mark Bowles was killed in a motorcycle accident on Interstate 35E in Corinth. He was 56.
Bowles started the football program at Liberty Christian and spent 26 years on the sidelines as the Warriors’ head coach, leading them to three TAPPS state championships in six title game appearances. He finished with a 212-73 career record before retiring prior to the 2009 season.
“It’s a dream come true and a goal achieved that I’m the head coach now, but that he’s [Bowles] no longer with us on a regular basis hurts because he’s been the only head coach we’ve ever had,” Bowles’ former offensive coordinator and current head coach Greg Price said in 2009 after being named Bowles’ replacement. “I’ve always taken pride in that. It makes Liberty very special. I always see him as the Tom Landry of TAPPS. It’s bittersweet.”
Bowles’ unexpected death sent shock waves through the coaching community, and not only in the private-school realm.
Longtime Ryan head coach Joey Florence said he had grown to know Bowles over the years through summer 7-on-7 and while speaking at banquets and Rotary clubs.
“It broke my heart [Sunday night] when I heard about that,” Florence said. “I used to hate coming up behind him at the Lions Club because he was always so organized and did such a great job speaking, and I always felt inadequate. He was always spot-on and did it right. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Florence even drove to Temple for the 2007 state championship game, where Liberty Christian played Dallas Christian, and watched his friend win his final state championship — the Warriors’ most recent — with a 28-7 victory.
“Mark was a well-respected guy,” Florence said. “He built that school and that program into a state champion. I actually drove down to Temple to watch them play Dallas Christian. I was at the game. I had a lot of respect for what he did. He was in it for the right reasons. His Christian values were something I respected.”
Bowles’ impact on players over the years was well-known, and they were always in the forefront of his mind, even more so than wins and losses.
“Coaching football here is a lot more than how many games can you win,” Bowles said in 2009 after Price was named his replacement as the second coach in program history. “It’s not about him [Price], it’s not about wins and losses, it’s all about these kids and helping these boys grow up to be good young men.”
Bowles also served 16 years on the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools executive board, during which he served as secretary, vice president and president.
“Through his dedication to TAPPS and many hours of service, Mark encouraged the participation of students in athletics and fine arts across the state,” said TAPPS executive director Bryan Bunselmeyer, who worked with Bowles at Liberty Christian for nine years before moving on to the TAPPS office, in a statement via e-mail. “He will be missed by his family, his extended family at Liberty Christian School and our organization. We extend our thoughts and prayer to his family and those he touched throughout his life.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.