The mood is turning ugly at Florida State, and, if the university is not careful, the legacy may, too.
It is becoming more apparent by the day that Bobby Bowden is nearing the end of his reign as head coach of the Seminoles. The chair of the university's board of trustees has joined the chorus of fans and critics calling for Bowden to step down at the end of the season. And so, sadly, the final days of one of the greatest coaching careers in history appear bound for acrimony.
Yet, for anyone paying attention, that is not the only concern in Tallahassee. You see, the problem at Florida State should not just be figuring out how to fire a head football coach. It should be figuring out how many head coaches to fire.
In other words, how do you indict Bowden and not implicate Jimbo Fisher?
Things are bad at FSU. No doubt about that. The program has been in decline for nearly a decade, and there does not seem to be hope anywhere on the horizon. But how does Fisher get his name stenciled on the same office door that they're shoving Bowden out of?
Because, no matter how you spin it, Fisher does not come out of this mess without a few stains of his own. He has been Florida State's offensive coordinator for three seasons and the designated head coach-in-waiting for nearly two years. If Bowden's job is not handed to Fisher in the next 15 months, the university is contractually obligated to pay him $5 million.
And that makes Fisher the only guy in college football to be given a golden parachute even before stepping on the plane.
The truth is, Florida State's leaders have screwed this thing up beyond belief. First, they gave Bowden too much leverage by, essentially, allowing him to call his own shots. And then they compounded their mistake by giving Fisher even more leverage with a ridiculous contract.
The result is the dysfunction you see in Tallahassee today. On the field, the Seminoles have lost their edge. Everywhere else, they have lost prestige. Attendance has dropped, recruits have turned elsewhere, and sniping has become commonplace.
Is this Bowden's fault? Ultimately, yes.
For a lot of years, he graciously accepted credit for building a football program few could have ever imagined in Tallahassee, and so he must now accept the responsibility for the hard times that have befallen his team.
Is this Fisher's fault, too? Not really.
The decline of the Seminoles began several years before Fisher's arrival. And, even if he is drawing larger paychecks than most head coaches in the country, he is not yet the ultimate voice in the locker room at Florida State.
Still, having said that, Fisher has done little during his stay in Tallahassee to warrant a free pass to the throne. Put it this way: If it weren't for his designated-coach contract, would you consider Fisher to be the best candidate in a nationwide search?
Here are the facts:
Fisher has never been a head coach. He was passed over for the top job at LSU when he was offensive coordinator, and no other major university has ever been persuaded to take a chance on him as a head coach.
He earned a reputation as an offensive guru at LSU, but that has not translated to success at FSU. During his time as offensive coordinator, the Seminoles have ranked 90th, 28th and, now, 62nd in the NCAA in scoring.
No one is suggesting defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is a candidate for Bowden's job, yet FSU's defense has ranked ahead of the offense (34th, 26th, 60th) during all three of Fisher's seasons.
A few years ago, the university and its boosters were so eager to replace Jeff Bowden as offensive coordinator, they paid him $537,500 to walk away. In his final three years, Jeff Bowden's teams averaged about 27 points a game in the regular season. Fisher's teams have averaged around 28 points. Which means one point is the apparent difference between being run out of town and being promoted to head coach.
Look, I'm not trying to bash Fisher. He seems gracious and charming, and I'm sure he has an astute football mind. But if folks in Tallahassee are willing to toss a legend aside because their standards are so lofty, then shouldn't the bar be just as high for the next coach, too?
For all its troubles, Florida State can still be an elite program. It has won national championships, it has set NCAA records, it has sent dozens of players to the NFL. There's no reason to be believe the Seminoles can not again be among the nation's best.
And if this is to be the end of Bowden's tenure, that is the legacy he will leave behind.
And Florida State owes it to him to make sure that legacy is in good hands.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.