Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So long to a legend

The Bobby Bowden era at FSU ended years ago. Unfortunately for the coach, no one had the guts to tell him. Thanks to having an enabler in the school president's office, Bowden has been allowed to keep going well past the point where common sense should have made it clear it was time to step aside. Today it finally ends, although the specifics still seem unclear. There was even a report that Bowden might "coach" the first game of 2010 against Samford, his alma mater and the first place he coached, and then retire. That's the kind of nonsense that had to end in Tallahassee. Bowden should be honored on that day (although once you've built a statue, a ridiculous looking stained glass window and named the field after a guy there's not much left to do on that front), but having him pretend to coach would be a huge distraction with zero benefit for FSU.

The tragedy of Bowden's final nine seasons on the sidelines is that a lot of people will remember him as a doddering fool, blowing his nose constantly and wondering why "ol' number nine" wasn't in there to return a punt when he went pro years earlier. That's a shame, because once upon a time he genuinely was a terrific football coach. The road victories in the 80s at some of the toughest venues in college football amazed me as a kid. Imagine someone booking a stretch like this insane five game 1981 run today: at Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Notre Dame, at Pitt, and at LSU. Bowden's team won three of the five. Bowden had the guts to call the punt rooskie against number three Clemson on the road late in a tie game in 1988. To quote a favorite movie of mine, Inherit The Wind, "A giant once lived in that body."

I believe things went permanently off course for FSU under Bowden in 2001 for a number of reasons. The departures of Mark Richt and Chuck Amato for head coaching jobs were significant, with the promotion of the unqualified Jeff Bowden to the offensive coordinator spot and Darryl Dickey being hired as QB coach each turning out to be disastrous choices. In February of that year, Devaughn Darling died while taking part in an offseason workout. I don't think the kids on that team ever fully recovered their trust in the coaches after that incident. I'll never forget being at the annual Florida Sports Writers Association Media Day event in Orlando around six months after the death. Bowden was asked what the status was of Darling's brother Devard, who had been in limbo because of concerns about him having the same sickle cell trait that had been a major factor in Devaughn's death. Bowden began to answer, and then said - and I want to emphasize this is a VERBATIM quote....

"Was it Devaughn or Devard? (Turning to FSU's SID Rob Wilson) Rob, which one died?"

I understand years and players may run together for a coach. I'd never blame a guy for not remembering whether someone was all conference for him in 83 or 85. When you have one DIE though, that should stand out enough to remember their name a few months later. It illustrated just how removed from the realities of his program Bowden had become. Without quality coaches under him to keep things organized and under control, this kind of preparation didn't work so well.

As a result of Bowden's retirement, it appears FSU will play their final game in the Gator Bowl against the West Virginia team he once coached. It'll be a nice storyline and sell some tickets, but it also emphasizes just how desperate the people in Jacksonville were to get rid of their current ties in favor of lower choices in priority from the SEC and the Big Ten. Whoever loses between Clemson and Georgia Tech will fall like a rock, likely to the Music City Bowl. Neither the ACC or Big East teams are marketable to anyone outside their own fanbases.

Word on Jimbo's staffing plans has been that he intends to make current staff member James Coley offensive coordinator. Rick Trickett will certainly be around, but other than that the rest of the coaching staff in Tallahassee may turn over. I'll be very interested to see what moves he makes and how fast he makes them. We'll get back into general discussion here tomorrow.

1 comment:

hugstorecowboy said...

Talk about a sad ending for Bowden. I used to have so much disdain for Bowden, but I also respected how dominant FSU had become under him. Now I just feel pity for Bowden and the way his career just limped to the finish line. I have a feeling that the Seminoles are going to have a rough transition much like the Gators did after Spurrier. I just don't have confidence in Fisher turning that program around. Jimbo seems more fitted to be a head coach of a mid level college program.