Like father, like son: Bowen bond is strong on UMD basketball courtMatt Bowen was just a short time into his tenure as Bemidji State men’s basketball coach when he asked his father, Rick, to join him as an assistant coach.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Matt Bowen was just a short time into his tenure as Bemidji State men’s basketball coach when he asked his father, Rick, to join him as an assistant coach.
“I knew Dad would have never asked in a million years,” Matt Bowen said, “so I’m glad I did. That was a good call for everybody involved.”
Now eight years later, Matt Bowen is in his second season at Minnesota Duluth, and his father continues to man the bench next to him as an assistant. Rick Bowen attends all UMD home games and many road games when they are close enough to his home in River Falls, Wis.
Rick, 69, is strictly a volunteer. His “payment” comes from being involved and seeing young people improve and succeed.
“Dad enjoys the wins probably just as much as anybody,” Matt said, laughing. “He’s a great donor to UMD, and UMD basketball. Not only does he work for free, but he donates to the Bulldog Club and when we win, he buys Black Woods. It’s a win-win for us. He doesn’t get one nickel, and if I tried to give him one for everything he does, he wouldn’t take it.”
There are plenty reasons Matt likes having his father around. Rick led Wisconsin-River Falls to 259 victories from 1986-2005 and the team’s first 20-win season since 1950. He previously worked as an assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, Steve Yoder at Ball State and Branch McCracken as a student-manager at Indiana, where he graduated in 1966. He also coached high school.
Matt said he looks to both his father and his predecessor, Gary Holquist, now the Bulldogs’ director of development, for advice.
“When you have a coach with a wealth of information, someone who you can use as a sounding board, I’m going to keep them involved,” Matt said. “It would be ignorant not to.”
The Bowens descend from famous Indiana roots.
Rick’s grandfather was a basketball coach and teacher, and his father, the late Dr. Otis Bowen, served as 44th governor of Indiana from 1973 to 1981 and as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1985 to 1989.
Rick served as a combat medic in Vietnam, but chose his grandfather’s career path instead.
“I don’t know if it’s because I was born and raised in Indiana, but basketball has always been my passion,” Rick said.
Matt, 43, was born in Elkhart, Ind., but got used to moving around as a child as his father jumped from job to job.
Matt, along with his brother, Mike, found the transition to a new school easier because of sports. He played baseball in the summer, football in the fall, but basketball, year round. He started at guard three years for River Falls High School, but rather than play small college basketball after graduating in 1990, he chose to follow his father’s lead by becoming a student-manager at Indiana under legendary coach Bob Knight, who was friends with Bowen’s grandfather and father.
Matt later worked under Homer Drew at Valparaiso and Gene Bartow at Alabama-Birmingham.
“When people ask me where I’m from, I say, “I can’t even begin to tell them,’” Bowen said. “I moved every four years since the day I was born. It was incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding at the same time. Every time we moved, I can honestly say I’m sure I cussed my parents out and was really, really disappointed in them. You uproot your youth baseball team, you uproot your friends and you start all over again. That’s always a challenge, but just being a coach’s kid, you learn to grow up pretty quick.”
Matt Bowen landed his first head coaching job at Bemidji in 2006, helping the Beavers go from 5-23 that first season to a 22-9 mark and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011-12. The Bulldogs went 8-19 in their first year under Bowen last winter and are off to an injury-plagued 5-7 mark this season going into this weekend’s home series.
“Matthew followed my profession, and I’m very proud of him,” Rick Bowen said. “If Duluth is patient, he will build the program up just like he did at Bemidji State.”
And with his dad by his side.
Rick retired from coaching in 2005, but continued as River Falls’ athletic director another five years. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.
“Rick and I crossed paths often over my 37 years of college basketball,” Holquist said. “Rick is a Hall of Famer who gets to share a lifetime of college basketball experience and knowledge with his son on a daily basis. That’s something truly unique and special.”
Rick’s primary duty with the Bulldogs is recruiting. He rarely makes practices but is more readily able to scout high school games in the Twin Cities area.
While most of the current UMD players haven’t had too much time to get acquainted with the older Bowen, they are comfortable with his presence. Rick is more subdued than during days as a head coach and is now the approachable elder statesman.
“The guys on the team have nothing but the upmost respect for him,” UMD junior guard Reece Zoelle said. “Coach (Matt Bowen) will give his halftime pep talk and then leave, and sometimes his dad will take a few moments to give us feedback. He’s always very upbeat and positive. We just treat him like another coach.”
Matt called the hardest job in the world being a coach’s wife. Rick and his wife, Sandy, have been married 47 years, and she always makes the three-hour trip to Duluth to see Matt’s wife, Ashli, and daughters McKenzi, 11, and Addison, 6. And of course, catch the game.
“Both my parents are retired,” Matt Bowen said. “They both did financially well for themselves, so just to cut basketball out when that is what they’ve been doing their entire existence wouldn’t make any sense. They just really enjoy it. For him and my mom, it’s a life that has been built on basketball and their two sons. That’s what they do. That’s all they’ve ever known, so to be able to continue to provide that is truly a blessing.”