Bill Bowes’ coaching tree includes Chip Kelly

On Sunday night, the West Branch Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inducted 13 new members into its Class of 2013, at a ceremony held at the Genetti Hotel in Williamsport. Among those honored was former Lock Haven High School graduate Bill Bowes, who was elated to be chosen as an inductee.

“I look at some of the names of the people who have already been inducted, and the people here tonight and it’s impressive,” he said. “It’s an honor and I’m thrilled.”

Bowes, who played college football at Penn State, lettered three times during his collegiate career, and was made team captain of the Nittany Lions during the 1964 season. He was a recipient of the Student-Athlete Award during his time at PSU, and was also chosen to play in the Blue-Gray All-Star game.

But Bowes is best known for his time spent on the sidelines at the University of New Hampshire as head coach of the Wildcats.

Bowes said the decision to follow a career in coaching was one that he made in his sophomore year at Penn State, after realizing that his current field of study (business) was not suited for him.

“After a year of college I became a little introspective and I really started to think about what I really wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t like my business courses, so I pretty much made up my mind then that I wanted to be a coach.”

As the head coach at UNH from 1972-1998, Bowes established a winning atmosphere for the Wildcats almost immediately.

After posting 4-5 records in each of his first two seasons at the helm of the football program, Bowes led the team to Yankee Conference Championships in 1975 and 1976, and over the next two decades he would help the Wildcats to four more championships.

He ended his coaching career with 175 wins and a .617 win percentage, and only saw losing seasons in four of the 27 years he spent as head coach. He is ranked in the top 15 coaches for career wins in Division I-AA football, and holds the most wins of any coach in the history of the Yankee Conference.

But he didn’t do it alone.

One of the major keys to his success, Bowes said, was having great assistant coaches to work with during his career.

“You need good assistants to not only work with the kids on the field, but also to recruit,” he said. “You also need an administration that has an appreciation of your sport.”

Of the men that have coached under Bowes, he said that about 30-40 of them went on to have success coaching with other programs. Some of the more notable coaches to start their careers as assistants on his staff are Sean McDonnell, who is currently the head coach at New Hampshire; Phil Estes, who now leads the Brown football squad; and Mark Whipple, a longtime NFL assistant, who has coached on many professional teams and made his most recent stop with the Cleveland Browns.

However, the most notable name to branch from Bowes’ coaching tree is someone that many Pennsylvania sports fans have become well acquainted with recently – Chip Kelly.

Kelly, now in his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles after four as head coach at Oregon from 2009-2012, where he led the Ducks to three Pac-12 Conference championships and four BCS bowl games.

But before he became a household name, Kelly spent six years as a member of Bowes’ staff at New Hampshire, coaching running backs and the offensive line.

Bowes said that, during that time, Kelly showed promise as a coach but wasn’t necessarily the first person that he would have thought would go on to have a great coaching career.

“I can’t say that he stood out from the pack,” said Bowes.

He did say that Kelly’s work ethic was his biggest asset as an up-and-coming assistant, and was the biggest factor in getting him where he is today.

“Chip was very intense, and he worked at it,” Bowes said. “That was the one thing about him, he was always thinking football.

“He worked countless hours, and he would do whatever it took. Some of the things he would do on his own to better himself, like meeting with other coaches, weren’t subsidized by the university and he would pay out of pocket to do them,” said Bowes. “That told me then that he could be something special.”

Despite the time they spent together, the offensive philosophies of Kelly and Bowes share no resemblance. Bowes preferred to attack teams with a slow and steady pace meant to wear a defense down when he coached, whereas Kelly prefers a much faster approach that overwhelms the opposition with speed.

“His style is totally different than mine. He is wide-open with the spread offense, and we never did any of that when I was coaching,” Bowes said. “That stuff is all relatively new.”

Even though their methods are different, Bowes said that it is rewarding for him to see someone that he mentored become such an accomplished coach.

“It’s very nice to see Chip have the success he has had,” Bowes said.