Bowman Brings Experience, Leadership to Midland
He wanted to be a college football coach, but the timing was tricky for Zack Bowman. Having spent three years as an assistant high school coach and working for a nonprofit agency in Omaha, Bowman wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on a coaching change. But Jeff Jamrog just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Through the Midland University football coach’s persistence, Jamrog would eventually land Bowman on his staff. He has spent the 2019 season coaching cornerbacks for the Warriors. “I saw him on the sidelines (as a high school coach) and thought he had a great demeanor, so I had my eye on him,” Jamrog said. “I kept calling him and he kept telling me the timing wasn’t right. Last spring, he finally listened.”
Bowman’s track record speaks for itself. The cornerback played two seasons at the University of Nebraska before landing in the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 2008. He made the most of that opportunity, spending the next eight years in the NFL, six with the Bears and a season each with the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins. He finished his NFL career with 200 tackles, 13 interceptions and two touchdowns while also excelling on special teams.
It’s a resumé that Jamrog was well aware of, and it soon caught the attention of his team. “When I told the guys about his NFL career, you would hear some hoots and hollers whenever I mentioned the teams he played for,” Jamrog said. “I think all the guys went back and started looking up his career.”
Being a successful player is one thing. Translating that into being a successful coach is a different story. Bowman understands the transition doesn’t come without challenges, but he’s learned along the way. “There’s been an adjustment period for all of us as we get used to each other, but with any profession, you have to learn what these guys know and help them,” he said. “It’s been a great learning experience for me. You have to cut back on some things because their football knowledge and technique might not be there yet, but I tell them all the time to go be great and don’t be afraid to make plays. I understand them because I was a player and I understand the challenges. It’s about building relationships and you want to keep it fun for them, because football is supposed to be fun.
Midland’s defense is having more fun this season, especially when it comes to taking the ball away from its opponents. After producing seven interceptions the entire 2018 season, the ball-hawking Warriors have come up with 19 interceptions through 10 games this year. Jamrog said Bowman’s presence has been a positive influence on his defenders. “He keeps it simple for the players. He’s been around a lot of great coaches and he relates well to the guys,” Jamrog said. “He’s not a rah-rah coach, but he’s a teacher. He demands excellence from them and holds them accountable. I’ve seen guys get better under his coaching.”
The teaching goes beyond what takes place between the lines. Bowman is a study in perseverance. He missed his entire junior season at Nebraska with a knee injury, something that would again haunt him in his professional career. In the NFL, he went through the highs and lows of being a starter one day, and being cut the next. To him, it’s a lesson he can pass on to his current players. “There are guys who might have been a star on their high school team, but they come here and are just another guy,” he said. “Some guys are used to being starters, then they might not get to play, or some get injured for the first time. I can tell them from experience what I’ve been through and help them handle those situations. I tell the players all the time what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it.”
Ronnie Taylor, a senior from Omaha, is second on the team in both interceptions (2) and pass break-ups (5). He believes Bowman’s arrival has boosted the confidence of the entire secondary. “He’s brought a positive attitude and allowed us to play more freely,” Taylor said. “He trusts us and wants us to be confident and make plays. We all trust in each other to get the job done.”
It was a time when Taylor didn’t get the job done that he began to appreciate the leadership Bowman brought to the team. “It was the second game of the year and I messed up on a play. Coach didn’t get on me all that much because I knew I messed up, and he knew I messed up,” Taylor said. “It really made me wish I had made the play. He always ties certain plays to life situations. Bad things are going to happen to you, and you have to adapt. If you have a bad play, you have to get ready for the next one.”
Bowman has been impressed by not only what he sees from his Warriors, but from the NAIA level. “Once you get into the NAIA, you see how much talent is here,” he said. “At Midland, I’ve seen how much the coaches support and will fight for their players. They do a great job in supporting the players in terms of equipment, travel, food and lodging. I know other schools aren’t doing what we do for our players. Coach (Jamrog) has done a lot of great things for these players and I see how he handles certain situations that might be tough, but still shows his support for them.”
Jamrog views Bowman as the right kind of fit on his staff. His background and teaching skills command respect, but his leadership abilities are what Jamrog’s most impressed by. “Zack has been a great mentor for these young men,” he said. “He’s played the game at all levels and has a successful, well-balanced background. He has tremendous knowledge of the game and is an excellent teacher. He’s about all the right things. He’s seen adversity and he knows how to attack it. He’s very well respected and everyone I talked to about him had nothing but the highest compliments.”
Bowman doesn’t flaunt his NFL career to his players. In fact, he’s quite humble when it comes to his accomplishments. So even for someone who played football at its highest level, it’s still all about getting better. “I keep learning from the other coaches, and they’ve helped me grow and understand NAIA football,” Bowman said. “We’ve all had different experiences. Just because I played in the NFL, doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”