Sunday, April 22, 2018
Colleges

Bobby Bowden: 'Everything happened for best' at FSU

There was a dimness to the land, the way there often is as the greatness of a kingdom fades.

No one seemed happy, not the legendary king and not the murmuring subjects. Bobby Bowden had been a great leader, everyone agreed on that, but recent signs were that things were slipping away from him. He wanted to continue to rule — one more year — but everyone else wanted, even demanded, a new king.

People argued. People snarled. Voices grew loud.

It was among the ugliest times at FSU, those dark, final days of Bowden. Eventually, he would be pushed aside from the program he had created. His statue remained, and his legacy. But one day, Bowden was the former king.

After that, the most amazing thing happened.

It worked.

•••

This is the most stunning part of the FSU story, the quickness in which the program went from Bowden's farewell to Jimbo Fisher's arrival. As quick as turning a grimace into a smile, FSU is back.

Understand this: It does not usually happen this way. Not at Notre Dame, not at Nebraska, not at Alabama. Not anywhere. A coach following a legend does not simply pick up the greatness and restore it.

Yet, here we are. Four years later and Fisher and the boys are great all over again.

Once again, FSU looks like the most complete team in the land. The Seminoles have a Heisman-winning quarterback. They have explosive receivers and a deep group of running backs. They have a sturdy defense. In a few days, if they can beat Auburn, they will have a third national championship.

And those dismal days at FSU?

Looking back, they seemed to last about 15 minutes.

Who knew it would happen so quickly? You can say what you wish about former trustee Jim Smith, who called for Bowden's ouster, or about former president T.K. Wetherell, who executed it, but what they did helped make this week possible.

Looking back, the promotion of Fisher accelerated recruiting, and he re-energized a program. Looking back, they were not just ending a career. They were starting a new one.

To be honest, it also seems to have worked for Bowden, 84. He seems happy, and these days, he says that lost year no longer bothers him.

"Let me just say this," Bowden said. "For FSU, there is nothing wrong with the way it happened."

Even now, you get the idea that Bowden would have liked that last year. You can argue that Bowden had earned his own exit, and yes, he could have wandered the sideline for another season and added seven or eight victories to his total.

But who would have been happy? FSU would have spent another year acting like a family trying to convince its favorite uncle that it was time to stop driving.

And here's the hard questions: Had Bowden been given another season, would it have affected this season? Would it have slowed Fisher's recruiting? Would it have altered his timeline?

Here's the thing: Bowden didn't need that extra year. Even if he had had it, would Bowden be any more beloved than he is these days? Would fans be any happier to see that lopsided grin of his? Would the news that Bowden was going to games again feel any better?

"I think everything happened for the best," Bowden says now. "It's history now. People forget I hired Jimbo, and I'm as happy as I can be in what he and (the Seminoles) are doing.

"I don't know that if I had an extra year it would have changed anything. Jimbo would still have things going."

That's the thing about legends. Once they are no longer in charge, they can be embraced fully. As a former coach, everyone loves Bobby all over again, dadgumit.

For FSU, it all worked perfectly. Everybody won. Fisher. Bowden. Wetherell. You can argue that for this to happen, that had to happen.

Still, it does not usually work this way. After Bear Bryant stepped down, Alabama only won one title in its next 26 seasons until Nick Saban came to town. After Ara Parseghian stepped down, Notre Dame has won only two in its past 39 seasons (and none in its past 26). After Tom Osborne retired, Nebraska hasn't won one in 16 seasons.

Everywhere, it seems, teams are chasing their own history. At Florida. At Texas. At Oklahoma. At Clemson. At Michigan. After all, college football is a coach's game. Once you lose a great one, it is hard to find another.

Except at FSU, where Fisher is doing fine, thank you.

"At most places, I don't think they get the right guy," Bowden said. "We got the right guy. Jimbo is good. He's about as close to Saban as there is."

It's funny. Until this year, no one seemed convinced about Fisher. But this year, Fisher has the look of a coach who has it all under control. Four years in, and he has won 44 games, and he has been ranked every year, and he has replaced the top quarterback in the 2012 NFL draft with the top quarterback in the nation. In college coaching, who doesn't want to be Fisher?

Already.

Looking back, maybe it could have been handled more smoothly. Maybe Bowden wouldn't have gone away angry. Maybe the transition could have been handled better.

It is doubtful, however, that the football program could have responded any quicker. It is doubtful that FSU fans could be any happier.

After all, the program was great under Bowden, and it is great again under Fisher. The reimagining of the FSU program has gone perfectly.

When you get down to it, who could ask for more?

1993

Record: 12-1

Regular season: FSU started ranked No. 1 and reached 9-0, including an 18-point victory over Miami, which had been riding a 31-game regular-season winning streak. On Nov. 13, No. 2 and unbeaten Notre Dame beat FSU 31-24, but the Irish then lost to Boston College. FSU moved back to No. 1 and beat the Gators 33-21.

Stars: QB Charlie Ward won the Heisman Trophy among his slew of honors. LB Derrick Brooks outscored FSU's first five opponents by himself. St. Petersburg FB William Floyd became a first-round draft choice.

Title game: No. 2 Nebraska entered the Orange Bowl unbeaten. In the fourth quarter, Ward rallied FSU to an 18-16 lead on Scott Bentley's field goal with 21 seconds left. The Cornhuskers, led by QB Tommy Frazier, a former Bradenton Manatee High star, missed a 45-yard field goal wide left as time expired.

1999

Record: 12-0

Regular season: FSU went wire to wire as No. 1, the first team to do so. Along the way FSU beat Miami without suspended star WR Peter Warrick, and Clemson in the Bowden Bowl, a showdown against Bowden's son Tommy, and the Gators.

Stars: Warrick seemed a Heisman Trophy contender until he was suspended for getting an unrealistic discount on clothing. QB Chris Weinke threw for 3,103 yards and 25 TDs. Sebastian Janikowski won the Lou Groza Award given to the nation's top kicker.

Title game: Virginia Tech also entered the Sugar Bowl 11-0. The Hokies, led by QB Michael Vick, took a 29-28 lead in the third quarter. But Weinke threw two TD passes in an 18-point fourth quarter as FSU won 46-29.

Times staff

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