The heat is intensifying on Florida State coach Bobby Bowden to announce his retirement and pave the way for his anointed heir, Jimbo Fisher, to take over the struggling program sooner rather than later.
As are emotions.
Jim Smith, an FSU alumnus, the chairman of the school's board of trustees and former state attorney general and secretary of state, came out and told the Tallahassee Democrat on Sunday that the Bowden era should end after this season and the Fisher era should begin.
"Frankly, it was personally very painful for me because I have the utmost respect for Coach Bowden and what he's done," Smith said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Monday afternoon. "I told somebody (Monday), it's sort of like you have to put your favorite dog down; you know it's the right thing to do but you sure feel bad about it."
Although Bowden, 79, took a downtrodden program and built it into a perennial winner — an unprecedented streak of 14 seasons in the AP Top 5 from 1987 to 2000 and two national titles — his Seminoles are now 2-3 and, for the first time, 0-2 in the ACC.
Beginning with the 2008 season, he has been working under a one-year contract. He signed a contract in January that runs until Jan. 4, 2010. Fisher's contract runs through the 2010 season and states that he must be offered the job in January 2011 or he receives $5 million. If he leaves before then, he would owe the school $5 million.
The Democrat reported that school president T.K. Wetherell and general counsel Betty Steffens have been working on a head coaching contract for Fisher that would be for five years. Wetherell did not respond to calls or an e-mail from the Times.
"I've never read the story," Fisher said, adding that he'd been watching game film since 6 a.m. Monday to prepare for Saturday's game against visiting Georgia Tech. "That has nothing to do with me. All I can control is I'm the offensive coordinator of this team and I'll coach the offense and we'll try to get better."
Bowden, who said he has a time in mind when he would retire but stressed that he and Wetherell would determine "when my move has to come," said Monday that there was "no comment I can make that would be appropriate." During a Q&A at his weekly booster luncheon, he was asked about the Smith quotes and he said, "Everybody has their own opinion."
Ann Bowden told the Orlando Sentinel that she was disappointed in Smith, a longtime friend, and angry at "some of our boosters that Bobby has worked for and supported and raised money for" who are now turning their back on him.
Meanwhile, rumors are swirling around the program. Of discord among some of the assistant coaches, something Fisher adamantly denies. Of folks trying to put together a financial package to persuade Bowden to announce he will retire at the end of the season. Seminole Boosters Inc. chairman of the board Steve Brown said "there's not a negotiation going on at the present time, not to my knowledge." (Bowden already is set to receive $1 million in "appreciation" of his lifetime achievement and "extraordinary contributions to the intercollegiate programs" at FSU.)
"The topic is a very emotional one, there's no hiding that," said Tampa resident Barry Smith, a former FSU All-American at receiver and a prominent booster and contributor. "The reason it's emotional is because you look at Bobby Bowden the man, the man that he is. Forget the coaching; he's just a great individual. Then you throw in the coaching, what he's meant to the university. We were very fortunate back in 1976 to get him. It's a Cinderella story.
"So you've got a bunch of people out there saying, 'The man deserves whatever he wants because of what he's done for the university.' Then others say, 'If you take the emotion out of it, if this were a corporation, what would we do?' "
He said two people have to look in the mirror — Bowden and Wetherell — and answer that.
Jim Smith may have nudged that process along.
"I think 90, 95 percent of FSU people have the feelings that I have," he said, citing a large number of supportive calls and e-mails he has received. "I think somebody just had to step up and say it, and I did.
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.