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FSU loses early star, longtime assistant Gene McDowell

Florida State has lost its first All-American football player and a longtime assistant who helped build the program.

Gene McDowell, 81, passed away on Tuesday morning after a lengthy illness. He was impactful as a player, assistant and coach with the Seminoles before becoming UCF’s head coach from 1985-87.

A native of Waycross, Ga., McDowell played guard and linebacker and was a star on offense and defense at FSU from 1960-62. His teams helped lay the foundation for the success to come under coach Bill Peterson, who also arrived in 1960. A captain of the 1962 team, McDowell was named to the Associated Press’ All-American team — the first FSU player to be honored.

McDowell soon turned to coaching, spending time at FSU as an assistant coach in 1968-69 as well as 1974-75. He stayed on as linebackers coach when Bobby Bowden was hired in 1976 and remained on staff through the 1984 season.

“He was very dependable and a tireless worker,” Bowden told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2017. “He was a very fundamental and a tough tough coach. He didn’t baby players; he was tough on them.”

Yeah, uh, you know, genius. Genius to the point he just meant yes, and his no meant No. And he expected your best effort in everything you did.

“Gene was like my brother,” said former defensive ends coach Jim Gladden, who shared office space with McDowell. “He’s the guy that paved the way for me to get here to Florida State. I was a high school coach in Hernando County, just north of Tampa, and he was the coach from Florida State that recruited my school and we hit it off.”

Gladden said McDowell helped him adjust to how much to demand from players at the college level and the basics of recruiting, a skill Gladden learned well.

“You talk about a loyal friend, a guy that if you need something, no matter the time of day, you could count on Gene,” Gladden said. “He was very straight forward. Yes meant yes and no meant no. He was a man of few words and  a master of wit.”

“He was an outstanding coach, very smart,” Gladden said. “He was very demanding. His mantra with the players was simply this one statement, ‘I can tolerate a lot of things but I will not tolerate a lack of effort.’”

Peterson hired McDowell to guide the University of Central Florida into Division I football in 1985, where he had success in building the team and the program.

“The thing you could say about Gene was he was as tough as any of them coming along,” Gladden said. “And everybody that I know that played with him or played for him will agree. He was demanding but he was great with his players off the field.”

McDowell was inducted into the FSU athletics hall of fame in 1985.

In 1985, McDowell was named the head coach at Central Florida. He was 86-61 in his career as a head coach.

McDowell later coached the Tallahassee Thunder, an indoor football team that played in the Civic Center in the early 2000s.

Funeral arrangements are pending. 

Osceola publisher Jerry Kutz contributed

Gene McDowell (62) was a star at linebacker and guard. (Garnet and Great archives)
(From left) Gene McDowell, Jesse Solomon, Mickey Andrews and Jim Gladden at an event inside the Champions Club. (Garnet and Great archives)