Matt Tait: Clint Bowen the perfect pick to lead LHS football

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas interim head coach Clint Bowen gives a big hug to senior linebacker Ben Heeney as Heeney is introduced with the rest of the seniors prior to kickoff on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

There are a couple dozen different reasons why Clint Bowen being named the next football coach at Lawrence High makes sense and should be celebrated.

But one of those reasons, which Bowen hopes will tie him to some of the great Lawrence High coaches of the past, makes Bowen a dream hire for the Lions.

After two-and-a-half decades of college coaching, which included caring for and leading kids who came mostly from out of state, the 1990 LHS graduate is ready to do for Lawrence kids what Al Woolard, Bill Freeman, Dick Purdy and Dirk Wedd did before him.

Bowen, who played for Freeman, years after his father played for Woolard, wants to follow in those footsteps today more than ever before.

All four of those former LHS football coaches, who won a lot of games and shaped a lot of lives in their 60 combined years on the LHS sideline, led with their hearts and the desire to always do right by young people.

They became known not just as good coaches who won games and honored Lawrence High’s rich football tradition, but also as good men who cared about people, the community and setting a positive example for their players.

Bowen has accomplished a lot in his career and he has coached a number of notable names who had great success in college and went on to play in the NFL.

But it was a stint as the defensive coordinator at West Middle School — then called West Junior High — for longtime Lawrence coach and educator Lynn Harrod that first opened his eyes to the joys of coaching young people.

At the Warhawks’ season-ending banquet for the 1994 ninth grade football team, Harrod praised Bowen’s contributions to the team and called the then-recent KU grad the best young coach he had ever seen.

At the time, Bowen had no plans for his future and was leaning toward becoming a physical education teacher like so many of his former coaches and mentors.

And then he heard Harrod’s words and all bets were off.

“Lynn’s just reading off his script and trying to get through a banquet,” recalled Bowen during a Monday interview with the Journal-World. “But at that time, I was like, ‘God, this guy thinks that I’m a coach.’ If Lynn Harrod doesn’t say that, I don’t know if I go into coaching.”

Much later in life, a trip to Leroy for Freeman’s funeral in late 2015 showed Bowen just how big of an impact someone in his current position can have.

More than 100 former LHS football players and track athletes made the drive south with Bowen that day. And those former Lions were just a part of the group of former players and friends who gathered to honor Freeman.

“That always stuck with me,” Bowen told the Journal-World. “It was eye opening to me to see that that many people would drive to Leroy, Kansas, for a man’s funeral 20 years after they had last even seen him. Knowing what those guys meant to the community and knowing what they meant to the school, to think you’re stepping into that role is a huge responsibility.”

It’s that connection that Bowen covets, with both his football players and LHS students from all walks of life.

And it’s the opportunity to create it in a town so near and dear to his heart that inspired him to turn down several opportunities to stay in college coaching.

This is not the end of the road for Bowen. And he is not settling for whatever job he could get. In many ways, it’s the beginning. And, if it all goes according to plan, Bowen’s name will be mentioned alongside those others — and so many more great coaches in LHS history — two decades from today.

That may seem like a high bar. But it’s the only one Bowen has ever known, and it’s one he has always held for the athletes he coaches.

The students and athletes at LHS, and the community as a whole, stand to benefit a great deal from that approach and from Bowen coming home again.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.