Friday, October 6, 2006

Coach Bowden, It's Time

I have been a Florida State fan since the mid-1980s, and graduated from FSU in 1995. My college years were exactly in the middle of the Seminoles' 14-year Dynasty from 1987-2000. So yes, I've come to expect a certain level of performance out of my beloved Seminoles and from Bobby Bowden.

NC State's 24-20 victory over the Seminoles last night flipped that proverbial switch in my head. The problem with the last several years of Florida State football has not been Jeff Bowden, Chris Rix, terrible offensive lines, injuries, etc. The problem has been, and is, Bobby Bowden.

Bobby Bowden is 4-6 in his last 10 football games. And two of the four wins were Troy and Rice.

Bobby Bowden is like our elderly Grandpa who cannot and will not accept that age is getting the better of him. Even though he has blown through stop signs, pulled out in front of speeding traffic, and run over the neighbor's dog, he cannot and will not give up the car keys because those are literally the keys to his freedom, to a life. The FSU football program is Bobby Bowden's set of car keys.

For the last several years, Bowden's excuses for the increasing amount of losses have come down to a few predictable sound bites:

1- The players didn't execute
2- Other teams always get pumped up for FSU
3- We have too many injuries

I'm sure the coaching staff appreciates that their supervisor doesn't criticize them in public. That's admirable. What's not admirable is constantly pointing fingers at players for not executing. The policy needs to be total: either no one gets criticized in public (coaches and players), or everyone is fair game to get criticized in public. Singling out 18-22 year old players but shielding 40-50-and 60-something coaches is bizarre. But the reason that Bowden does this is simple: he cannot face the fact that he made a disastrous decision in promoting his son Jeff to offensive coordinator. Bobby stated in his book The Bowden Way that he won't fire a coach for performance because that means he will have to admit to himself that he made a mistake in hiring him. He is already predisposed to give an assistant coach all the time and opportunity in the world. When that assistant coach is also his son, and combined with the natural course of aging, the rationalizations for the disaster that is the FSU offense kick into high gear, and the abject refusal to make a change is intensified.

The player development on the offensive side of the ball since 2001 at Florida State has been non-existent. While the Noles still churn out high draft picks on defense, there is a dearth of development on the offensive side. But, Coach Bowden does not see a systemic problem. It's all about making the blocks, completing the passes, and not turning the ball over. If only it were that simple.

As an aside, consider this about Bowden and his obsessive defense of Jeff: one of Bobby's grandsons and his former son-in-law were killed in a car accident just a few days before the season opener in 2004. This loss devastated him to his core. Family is more important than ever to him. Keep that in mind if you really think he will demote or fire his own flesh and blood.

But, with Coach Bowden's abject refusal to make any change whatsoever and his stubborn decision to stay on as head coach, each loss will bring about more and more criticism of the son he only wishes to help. Each loss will bring more and more of the questions that now make him bristle. Each loss will ding his legacy a bit more.

Yes, Coach Bowden would love to retire as the winningest 1-A coach of all time. If he leaves after this year, Joe Paterno will likely pass him next season. Oh well. It would be much worse if Paterno passes Bowden while Bobby is still coaching.

For Coach Bowden's sake primarily, I truly hope he chooses to retire at the end of this season. And when I say for his sake primarily, I mean it--this may be the last season where he has the chance to go out on his own terms. The Noles are not going to magically get back into the Top 10 at status quo, and there are only so many 4 and 5-loss seasons that can be brushed aside. If Bobby were to make such an announcement soon, whatever happens this season (and in retrospect the last 5 years)gets glossed over. A 6-6 record? Oh well, but at least he knew when to leave. Tributes, farewells and tears will flow his way for all that he's done not just for Florida State but for all of college football.

Retirement will not be as boring as he thinks. He has a loving wife, 20+ grandkids, speaking engagements out the wazoo and plenty of golf to play. Mark Richt, Tommy Bowden and Chuck Amato will buzz his phone every week for advice and insight.

Bobby, we love ya, but it's time to hand over the keys. Thank you for all you've done.

Time gets the best of everyone


mobius said...

Wow, great column. I hate that I agree with you on so many points. To be fair, the offense looked pretty decent in spots against NC State, but six years of declining performance is no coincidence. I've had this empty feeling in the pit of my stomach since Thursday night, like something's missing. And something is missing: the team that I've lived and died with as long as I can remember. I love Bobby, but watching what's going on at FSU (and contrasting it with mother-f%#$@ing UF) is painful. I hope we can turn it around, but I have a hard time seeing how that's going to happen with Jeff, Dickey, and McHale around and we all know they're not going anywhere...

Marcus said...

I agree that more of the blame for the NCSU loss lies with the defense than the offense. That said, Southern Miss rung up 37 on NCSU and Akron scored as many as FSU.

But that's all beside the point. The NCSU loss is beyond offense or defense. FSU is just an unprepared team week in and week out. We win and lose on execution and execution alone. No play calls and no sets or schemes win for us.

It really is time for a new coaching staff.

Anonymous said...

100 % garbage. Just cuz you have a degree from FSU, doesn't give you diddly for football critique. You are short in the life experience department and someday you MAY understand that and realize your need for constant gratification is YOUR shortfall. The FSU football program today is huge because of the desire of Bobby Bowden to make himself and those involved a major player in college football. By Southside Willy

Marcus said...

Bobby Bowden of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s isn't the same Bobby Bowden in 2006. You know it, I know it, we all know it. A 77-year old man simply doesn't have the same energy, capacity and desire that guys in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s do. But, deny it all you want.

Instant gratification? That's the line you old timers like to trot out when someone complains about FSU football nowadays. FSU hasn't finished in the Top 10 in six years. FSU football has finished in the Top 15 just once in those six years. Since when is a watching a six year slide, and then proposing a change, "instant gratification?"

Are we an elite program or not? If we are, how can we accept 6 years out of the Top 10 and continued ineptitude on offense?

Are you more loyal to Florida State, or to Bobby Bowden?

I don't want Bobby Bowden fired. I want him to retire because that is what is best for him and the program.

Tone down the defensiveness a tad. If my column got you riled up, you'll blow a blood vessel reading other stuff that's out there about Bobby.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It is time for Bobby Bowden to step down with a little dignity. As a long time fan and graduate of FSU it is painful to watch a once great football program fall on hard times. Watching a team who has a hard time scoring 19 points in a game against real competition is not FSU football. Rich Rodriquez at WVU should be the next FSU coach. Since WVU is where FSU should be Rodriquez is not going anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I really think that old fool should stay. He and his son are the best things that have ever happened to the program at Florida. Keep up the bad work Bobby! Our recruiting classes love ya for it.

Noles and Nittany Lions said...

Losing to Clemson did not surprise me, losing to NCST didn't surprise me (we lost to NCST 4 out of the last 5 years), However when I woke up and started to put the pieces together and realized that there are two teams below FSU in all the ACC (Duke 0-7 and UNC 1-6) and after losing to Boston College this weekend, I have seen the last straw. It is clear as everyone knows Jeff Bowden is incapable of running the offense and the only way Jeff is going to go is if Bobby goes.

I will also say that after moving from florida my family ended up in Happy Valley where my father went to school. I saw the Boosters at PSU go through the same grumblings as in Tallahasee, the difference? They were not afraid to fire their offensive coordinator after going 3-8. Is it going to take a 3-8 season for Bobby to leave? I certainly hope that is not the case.

Twilsonz said...

Plain aind simple on this debacle...our offensive line resembles that of the Dallas Cowboys, seems off-key but pay attention. Come next year we will finally have a semi-verteran line. Greg Jones, Leon Washinton, and Lorenzo Booker all have had great seasons followed by a slow one. This attributes to our line. Look at the ammount of carries our running backs have compared to most. We have great chemistry when we are healthy, with a depleted secondary, defensive line, and linebacking crew it is very difficult to score enough points to hang with some of these teams. We find ourselves down late and clearly show the firepower to come back from a deficit. Clemson got one lucky play after a very bad call in which L. Timmons supposedly stole the ball from Jacoby Ford...since when is that challengable. That was the turning point. NC State coming off a great win against BC got lucky once again against us. We put up good drives, but dont deliver when it counts. Those are signs of a young team...all in all, we are still very young and have much to learn. Come next year the receives of Joslin Shaw, Greg Carr, and De'Cody Fagg should be mature and Brandon Warren will get better. Weatherford should mature dramatically and our line will improve. Antone Smith is capable of being the next Warrick Dunn, plus he has more power. Lorenzo was picked as the next Dunn, but without a great offensive line is useless as he does not have the power to run through linebackers. We need BOWDEN! Why do you think we are still pretty darn good? Recruiting! And we have the #2 ranked RB coming in as well and a #1 DL too. Plain and simple, we will be back, and this year is not over. We were elite until 2001...that is only 5 years ago...give us a chance to show that we will finish the decade strong...with Bowden at the helm. FSU forever! We cannot give up!

Marcus said...

twilsonz-- I admire your optimism. It is well thought out but it is also very reaching. We are in our 6th yr post-Mark Richt and we watched one 4-yr starting QB regress (without having a single replacement take charge), and we are now watching Drew regress in his 2nd season.

Clemson didn't get lucky, and NC State didn't get lucky. They were better prepared. And they played better.

The massive injury toll this season is almost exclusively on the defensive side. Yet, our defense is still our strong suit. This is absolutely no conceivable reason why the Nole offense should be this bad. Actually, there are three reasons-- Darryl Dickey is a horrid QB coach, Jeff Bowden is a poor OC, and Bobby Bowden thinks they're just great.

Bobby has always been an asset in recruiting. But just wait til national signing day this year. FSU is going to get pummelled. The Bobby charm can go a long way, but the results on offense the last 3 years will scare pretty much any 4- or 5-star recruit away from Tallahassee now.

I'm all for Bobby staying, but the offensive staff has to go the minute the Florida game ends on Nov. 25. Otherwise, the Noles will be hovering at .500 again and JoePa will pass Bobby by Oct. 2007.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain...

Let me start off by saying I'm a life-long fan of Penn State, and Joe-Pa, and thus don't have much love for either Bobby Bowden or FSU. That having been said what the ‘fans’ and boosters in Tallahassee are doing to Coach Bowden is absolutely despicable. No less despicable than what the ‘fans’ and boosters in State College did to Joe-Pa in the first couple of years of this decade but despicable all the same. I had hoped that the college football world, or more precisely the college football fan world, would have learned a lesson from they way one legend was treated and not subject Coach Bowden to the same kind of non-sense. Never mind the fact this man is the winningest coach in Division I-A football, or that he’s brought Florida State two national Championships and 12 ACC Championships, or the 17 seasons of 10 plus wins (including 14 in a row). There are also those 19 bowl wins and the third highest bowl winning percentage in history.
Still, as is the case with Joe-Pa, the stats are not the reason to stop this ridiculous treatment of these two legendary coaches. What Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno have brought to they’re respective schools in the way of tradition and off the field contributions are what really set these two giants apart. Bobby Bowden elevated Florida State from, at best, a mediocre program in the early 70’s to the power that FSU fans have come to love. In the five years preceding Bowden’s arrival FSU was an inspiring 19-37 under 2 different coaches. If you back up to include Bill Peterson’s 10 years at the helm, FSU was 81-79 in the 15 years prior to Coach Bowden. I seriously doubt any FSU fan is excite about the prospect of returning to those days.
The final thing I’ll point out is the current scholarship limits on NCAA football programs. At the time that Bowden and Paterno began they’re coaching careers there were no real scholarships limitations imposed by the NCAA. Starting in 1977 the NCAA began to systematically reduce the number of scholarships a university could offer to football players. This reduction culminated in 1992 with that number being reduced to the current 85. There is a host of arguments in every direction about the effect on parity that this has had on college football. I’ll simply point out that nearly every “power house” in college football has suffered at some point over the last two decades. USC and Norte Dame had trouble in the mid 90’s, Penn State and Nebraska in the early 00’s, FSU and Miami are currently having down times. Teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, and Tennessee have all experienced off years since 1992. It seems only logical, to me, that it’s more than chance that these 10 schools and many, many more have had difficult years since the implantation of the 85 scholarship limitation.
Have not legends such as Bowden and Paterno earned a cushion of more than a year or two to right the ship??

Marcus said...

Excellent post...and well researched! First off, it's not a ton of fans and it's not a ton of boosters who are trying to run Bobby out. It was one semi-prominent Booster who decided to air his grievances publically, and another semi-prominent Booster joined him. Aside from the usual fan "grumbling", that's really it. There are no behind-the-scenes, mass-efforts to force Bowden out.

The main issue with Bobby is that, unlike Paterno and nearly every other big-time coach, abjectly refuses to make changes on his coaching staff, regardless of performance. JoePa demoted his son. He made other staff changes as well. Bowden, on the other hand, has fired exactly 3 assistant coaches in his 31 seasons at FSU. The vast majority of the time, he's hired excellent assistants. This last go around, he didn't, and they're dragging him and the program down with him.

If Bobby somehow decided to demote Jeff, fire the QB coach and the OL coach, you'd see everyone back off. But he's not going to do that.

So, in my opinion, Bobby should retire to save himself all the grief he's getting, and to let FSU move forward.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent critique of what is going on with FSU football. After losing to Wake, Bowden AGAIN blamed the players, saying essentially that both quarterbacks stank it up. Come on, Bobby, let's have some accountability here.
With the exception, perhaps, for Charlie Ward, who was a freak of nature, FSU has NEVER had a gamebreaking quarterback. Only Brad Johnson, Ward's patient backup, has managed a decent NFL career. Weatherford and Lee are as good as Peter Tom Willis or Thad Busby or any other past FSU quarterback. The difference is that Willis and Busby and everyone in between, all the way up to Weinke, had a system that nurtured them along, that developed them into great leaders. Sadly, that system is not just in decline, it seems like it no longer exists at all.
I would also like to boldly state that Bobby's coaching leadership has been in decline for twenty years now. He was a great coach in the 70's and early 80's, with players that were not highly touted out of high school. During our great run in the 1990's, we easily could have, or perhaps should have, won six national championships, not just two. We had the best team year in and year out, and the best assistant coaches in the country, Mark Richt among them. Yet Bobby often seemed dazed and confused even when we were titans. We always had poor game plans against Miami, the only team with the talent to match ours. And even back then, the dreaded third-and-long draw play was an everpresent staple.
Until recently, however, Bobby Bowden was a moral presence, and that trumped all of his age related inadequacies. But now I don't even feel he holds up a good moral example. His blind protection of his son's job, and his deflection of blame toward his twenty year old players, tell me that the time has come for Bobby Bowden to go. I hope it is a gracious and timely exit.