At FSU, the Bobby Bowden era nears an end

Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, who built the Seminoles into a national power and boosted the global image of the school as a whole, is expected to announce his retirement today, multiple media outlets are reporting.

It's unknown if Bowden, who has 388 career wins and is second all-time in Division I-A history to Penn State's Joe Paterno, would stay on through FSU's bowl game or if Jimbo Fisher, the designated heir, will take over immediately.

Neither Bowden nor FSU president T.K. Wetherell could be reached for comment on Monday night by the Times. Bowden told the Associated Press he hadn't made a decision yet as he weighed options he was presented with during an amicable, hourlong meeting early Monday with Wetherell and athletic director Randy Spetman. The three were supposed to meet again this morning.

Bowden, 80, had made it clear on Sunday that he wanted to return for the 2010 season despite mounting criticism from fans and prominent boosters in the wake of the team's struggles. FSU was 6-6 this season.

"Right now, I would like to come back," he said, adding, "I'd only want to come back as the head coach."

ESPN.com, citing unnamed sources, reported that one option was for Bowden to return but with a significant amount of authority abdicated to Fisher. The offensive coordinator's contract stipulates that he be offered the head coaching job by January 2011 or he would be owed $5 million. Fisher could not be reached for comment.

Bowden has been working under one-year deals for the last couple of seasons with the understanding that it was essentially a lifetime contract; if he wanted to coach another year, he would simply let Wetherell know. His current contract expires on Jan. 4.

"I've got bosses and I've got people who would have to approve it," Bowden said Sunday when asked about that understanding. He said it was not "forever."

Although he won two national titles (1993 and 1999) and led FSU to an unprecedented string of 14 Top 5 finishes (1987-2000), Bowden began to draw criticism for promoting his son Jeff to offensive coordinator after the 2000 season and then sticking with him for six seasons. In the last five years, the Seminoles are just 37-27 and have lost six straight to the University of Florida, the last three in lopsided fashion.

"Past success doesn't seem to mean anything anymore," he lamented recently.

In early October, Jim Smith, the chairman of the school's board of trustees and one of FSU's more powerful alumni, publicly called for the Bowden era to end.

"Frankly, it was personally very painful for me because I have the utmost respect for coach Bowden and what he's done," Smith told the Times then. "It's like putting your favorite dog down. You know it's the right thing to do, but you sure feel bad about it."

Wetherell said then that he and Spetman would evaluate Bowden and the state of the program at season's end. But before that point, Bowden's outspoken wife, Ann, told USA Today that "we don't need the university as much as they need us — as much as they need him and his connections and reputation and everything. . . . They'll have to fire him for him not to go another year. . . . If they've got guts enough, let them do it."

Whenever Bowden does retire, his contract calls for him to receive $1 million "in recognition of the completion" of his career and "in appreciation" of his "lifetime achievement and extraordinary contributions to the intercollegiate programs at the university."

It's possible he could receive an enhanced package if he were to walk away now. The Tallahassee Democrat, also citing unnamed sources, said Bowden could be offered a noncoaching position at FSU, although he has said many times that once he left coaching he planned to leave Tallahassee.

Bowden, who has often joked that his greatest accomplishment in more than five decades as a coach has been he's never been fired, came to Tallahassee in January 1976 and took over a moribund football program. The Seminoles, who played in an Erector-set of a stadium before sparse crowds, were 0-11, 1-10 and 3-8 before his arrival.

But Bowden, a jovial storyteller from Birmingham, Ala., whose blend of Southern gentility, spirituality and G-rated vocabulary of daggumits and gollees belied a competitive ferocity and bravado, knew he could build a winner and did.

"There will never be another Bobby Bowden," Wetherell said often. "He's special. He will always be special."

FSU already named the field at a now lavish Doak Campbell Stadium in his honor. The school also captured his singular drive in a bronze statue that towers before the entrance to the Moore Athletic Center.

"You can't separate Florida State's growth as an institution from Bowden's tenure," Wetherell said in August. "Have we done a great job of putting a new medical school on the table? No doubt about it. The same with the film school. But there's just no doubt about it that the excitement that Bowden brought to athletics helped us build on those other academic blocks. I don't know what it would have been like here without him. I really don't. I'm having a hard time just trying to visualize what it's going to be like not having him on the sidelines, watching them run out on the field for the first time without Bobby Bowden is going to be an emotional issue for more people than they think."

Winningest coaches

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden ranks second

in Division 1-A history in victories.

RankCoachRecord
1x-Joe Paterno393-129-3
2x-Bobby Bowden388-129-4
3Paul "Bear" Bryant323-85-17
4Pop Warner319-106-32
5Amos Alonzo Stagg314-199-35
6LaVell Edwards257-101-3
7Tom Osborne255-49-3
8Lou Holtz249-132-7
9Woody Hayes238-72-10
10Bo Schembechler234-65-8

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At FSU, the Bobby Bowden era nears an end 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 8:08am]

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