GAINESVILLE — As he always does as he walks off the field, win or lose, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden doffed his cap and tossed it into the stands for a screaming fan.
But was it a final, or at least, a limited-edition keepsake?
Bowden, 80, second to Penn State's Joe Paterno for wins in Division I-A history but under fire from prominent power brokers and fans much of this season, made an admission about his future after Saturday's 37-10 loss to Florida.
"Do I want to coach next year? Yeah, I want to coach next year," he said. "Now let me say, I need to go home and do some soul-searching."
After all, his Seminoles (6-6) not only have lost six straight to the Gators and the past three in lopsided fashion, but they must win a bowl game — perhaps the Music City against an SEC team — to avoid the first losing season under Bowden since his first in 1976.
As it stands now, his teams have gone 37-27 over the past five seasons.
Jim Smith, the chairman of the school's Board of Trustees, publicly called for Bowden to retire or be shown the door following a loss at Boston College in October. But school president T.K. Wetherell said only no decision would be made until after the season, when he and athletic director Randy Spetman would evaluate the state of the program.
Bowden has been told for years he had a de facto lifetime deal and could retire on his terms. He has been working under one-year contracts of late, however, and the current one expires in January.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who was anointed as Bowden's heir two years ago and must be offered the job by January 2011 or be paid $5 million, said he hasn't talked to his boss about the situation and has "no read" on what might happen.
"That'll be a decision Coach Bowden (makes)," he said. "Coach Bowden's been around here a long time and made a lot of decisions on his own. He won't need my input to decide what he wants to do. He always seems to make the right thing and do the right thing."
Redshirt freshman quarterback EJ Manuel, who made his third start since taking over for Christian Ponder, said he wants Bowden to return for 2010.
"I feel like he's an awesome coach," he said. "He's a great leader, a great person, a great man. That's a huge reason I came here — to play for a legend like him."
Sophomore linebacker Nigel Bradham added the players don't want to see him "leave like this" with a season that fell far short of expectations, but rather "see him go out strong."
No matter what Bowden decides (or have decided for him), he admitted Saturday was his final game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
"We've had some great wins here," he said. "We've had a lot of great tail kickings here. This is a pretty good tail kicking today. But it's a great place to play, a great atmosphere. And I won't miss it.
"I don't know what's going to happen as far as timing, but I know I won't be back here. If I do, I'll have to buy a ticket."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.