Chapman Football Coach Bob Owens Leads Team to Top-10 National Ranking

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

In his 47 years of coaching, never had Chapman coach Bob Owens experienced a season like the one the Panthers enjoyed last year. He led the county’s only four-year college football program to an unbeaten regular season, its first NCAA Division-III playoff victory, and national top-10 ranking. “It was the best team I’ve coached,” he says. “One, it was a young team. Number two, we had great leadership.”

The achievement capped a long journey for Owens, who has coached at every level since graduating from the University of La Verne in 1970 and is entering his 15th season with the Panthers. With a light Louisiana drawl left over from his days as a kid in Shreveport, Owens says he has never felt more at home. “I’ve been blessed to have all this experience and to be able to see it all culminate and come together at a place like this, where I have great administration and (faculty and staff). All of this comes together, and I get to be a part of it. How awesome is that?”

“I’m at this great university that really changes people’s lives. I mean, Chapman is an awesome place to experience.”

Chapman’s historic season should have given it great momentum heading into 2020, but COVID-19 makes everything uncertain. The school was shut down and practices canceled. Owens addressed the uncertainty during a team meeting. “I asked our guys, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to you in the time of any pandemic or disaster?’ And I listened as they gave different answers. Then they said, ‘Well, Coach, what do you think?’ I said, ‘To not be prepared.’ Knowing that we’re not sure is not an excuse to not be prepared. To say it’s not going to have any impact would be disingenuous. But to the point where our guys will maximize their time when they do have access to these facilities—our guys will do it and they will be ready.”

That kind of outlook helped lift the Panthers to their first victory over Linfield (Oregon) last fall, a three-overtime win in the first NCAA playoff game held on campus. Chapman was winless against Linfield in five previous meetings; Owens, formerly a coach at the University of Oregon, had heard it nonstop from former colleagues. “I’d get this grief from (them) all the time: ‘Well, you guys are never going to beat Linfield.’ I say, ‘We will compete like you’ve never seen a team compete. Our guys will not quit and will not take a step back. They will have to knock us out of this game.’ If it took us 10 overtimes, the only thing going through my head was, ‘We are winning this football game.’ ”

Owens turns 74 this month: Given his success, some might wonder why not go out on top. But Owens, who sits at 99 career victories as a head coach, has no plans to retire. “I’ve always thought about life this way: It’s not what you’re retiring from but what you’re retiring to. I’m at this great university that really changes people’s lives. I mean, Chapman is an awesome place to experience, and we get four years in the life of a kid to have impact. Now, what else would I rather be doing? I can tell you after these last few months, this stay-in-place (life) is definitely not what I want to do.”

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