NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ For a close family, the Bowdens have certainly been feuding lately _ hurling charges and trading insults.

It's all in fun, of course _ a kind of comic sideshow that takes the edge off the serious business of recruiting.

``I've been telling people I raised six kids and only two of them turned out to be bad about lying,'' Bobby Bowden said. ``Of course they tell everyone their old man is on drugs and going to be forced to retire within the year.''

For the three football coaches _ patriarch Bobby at Florida State, Terry at Auburn, and Tommy at Tulane _ the key to the future is in signing top talent on Wednesday.

With all three now heading up major college programs and a fourth working as Bobby's assistant, they find themselves running up against each other more and more often.

Bobby is the acknowledged champion after 22 years with the Seminoles, a 208-51-4 record and a national championship. Terry has plenty of selling points, however. He's 46-12-1 in five years at Auburn.

Tommy took over Tulane last season, and turned around a team that hadn't had a winning season in 15 years and led them to a 7-4 finish and second place in Conference USA.

``Daddy's the best there is when it comes to just selling himself to a young man and his family,'' Tommy Bowden said. ``Terry and I are just trying to keep up, but we all go hard against each other.''

And they relish every skirmish.

Tommy and Terry Bowden were both recruiting Torie Taulli, a 6-foot-3, 260 pound center from Shaw High School.

``Coach Tommy asked me if he could come visit right after Coach Terry,'' Taulli said. ``He said he wanted to pass his brother on the way out.''

Taulli picked Tommy and Tulane. He said both Tulane and Auburn rated dead even when he went over them point by point. In the end, it was Tommy's personality and a slightly better sense of humor that settled it, he said.

``I just pointed out how short Terry really is,'' Tommy said.

Terry Bowden did land a running back Tommy hoped to sign and was still hoping for a few more as Wednesday's signing date approached.

``I have to tell people about Tommy's drinking problem and how abusive he is,'' Terry said. ``And I warn them about how Daddy can't hear too good and nods off during meetings.''

The players get a big kick out of the good-natured putdowns. They know the family is close, spending time at each others' houses on recruiting trips and making any event an excuse for a family reunion.

``They see the smiles that go with the insults,'' Terry said.

But the Bowdens are also competitive and Terry said if recruiting against his father was unusual, when they were the only father-son coaches at major schools, the rivalry has just increased with time.

``I've gone against Florida State a lot and they won about 75 percent of those,'' Terry said. ``Now we're carrying it even further. I called my brother Jeff, who's on Dad's staff, the other day and his secretary told me he wanted to know if it was his good brother or the bad one. They were after a player Tommy was trying to get and he said he didn't want to talk to that weasel.''

That player was Talman Gardner, a 6-1, 185 wide receiver from McDonogh 35 in New Orleans.

``In recruiting you always have to be out for yourself. Bobby was telling me that his son was too young and Tommy told me his daddy was too old and would die soon,'' Gardner said. ``It was real funny. I really got some laughs out of it all.''

Both schools were high on his list, Gardner said. He opted for Florida State, though, saying he wanted to go out of state.

All three Bowdens admit they wish each other well, and if they can't get a top player, they'd just as soon see a family member land him. All three also acknowledge they aren't about to let a player go if they can help it.

Bobby Bowden compares it to an old story he once heard about a Yankee pitcher.

``He was so tough when he was in the game they said he'd brush back his own mother,'' Bobby said. ``Well, I'm real sympathetic and I want to see my boys all do good, but I'll brush them back if I have too.''