Thursday, February 22, 2018
Colleges

Former Florida State Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden over his forced exit but not ready to go back

Here's the plan. First, we need a distraction. Parachutists, perhaps. Fireworks, maybe.

While that is going on, the old man can sneak from beneath the stands. He can shrug off his overcoat and reveal his war paint. While no one is looking — and we might need some help with this part of the strategy — he will climb aboard his faithful steed Renegade.

And then Bobby Bowden will ride the horse to the center of the field in the moments before Saturday's home game against No. 10 Clemson.

Once there, he will thrust a flaming spear into the turf.

After all, if No. 4 Florida State really is back — and the signs suggest it just might be — what better way would this be to signal it?

It is time, of course. Everyone but Bowden seems to agree upon that. It is time for the school to embrace the football coaching legend and for the legend to embrace the school. It is time for both to admit how much they have meant to each other over the years. It is time for successor Jimbo Fisher and Bowden to embrace at midfield while the crowd looks on.

Isn't it?

Bowden chuckles at the suggestion. Then he says, softly, the time is not yet right for him.

"You've got me riding too soon,'' Bowden said. "I'm not anxious. I don't have an urge. "I said when I left that I was going to get out of town and not look over the new man's shoulder. Jimbo has an excellent team. He doesn't need for me to be a distraction.''

So when, Bobby? When will it be the right time?

"I ain't got any dadgum idea,'' Bowden said.

Like an estranged uncle, however, Bowden still pays attention. He wore the colors too long not to care.

"I'm still an FSU supporter,'' he said. "I pull for them. I keep up with them like I was still coaching. I watch everything I can. I read everything I can. I just feel good about watching it on TV.''

So far, Bowden likes what he sees. He suggests this team might be the best FSU has had since his 1999 team won the national championship. A win Saturday against Clemson would go a long way toward arguing that the Seminoles are back.

"If they win convincingly, they're probably back,'' Bowden said. "If they get beat or have to struggle, they would still have a ways to go.

"This team looks more physical than some of the teams I had. I don't know that they're faster, but they're bigger. I've watched both teams, and the FSU defense is stronger than Clemson's.''

Yeah, Bowden still sounds like a coach. But no, he doesn't feel like one.

"I don't miss it a bit,'' he said. "Not a bit. Oh, I miss the players, and I miss the coaches. But I'm 82 dadgum years old.''

He is over his retirement from FSU after the 2009 season, if you are wondering. Bowden wanted one more year, and there was a time he was irked that he didn't get it.

"I don't hold a grudge very long,'' he said. "I'm still a little mystified at the way it happened. I called their bluff, and they weren't bluffing. Remind me never to call someone's bluff again.''

Still, a forced retirement hasn't been terrible for Bowden. His health is good, and in recent years he has been to Hawaii twice and Brazil and Iraq. He speaks a lot. He golfs a lot. This weekend he is traveling to Tennessee to watch Akron (his son Terry is the coach) play.

"I retired from coaching,'' he said, "but I didn't retire from life.''

Last year Bowden went to Tuscaloosa to watch the Alabama-LSU game. He was offered a seat in a private box but instead chose to sit in the stands, listening to bands, hearing the cheers, soaking up the passion. He liked the viewpoint.

"When I do come back, that's where I'd like to sit,'' Bowden said. "I'd like to be in the stands and hope no one notices me. I don't want to be on the field until I'm 92 and I need a walker. I'm looking for pity.''

Bowden laughed loudly.

No, he said, it won't be 10 years. No, it won't be about pity.

Bowden and Fisher have talked "two or three times,'' Bowden said. Fisher has invited him to get closer to the program.

"I'll be honest,'' Bowden said. "Jimbo is one of the smartest, sharpest coaches I've ever been around. He's as close to (Alabama coach) Nick Saban as anyone. He coaches so much like him.

"He knows he can call me any time, and I know I could call him. I'm just not ready to go back. I enjoy watching him succeed. But let Jimbo have this. Let him enjoy it. I'd just feel like I was in the way.''

That's hard to believe. Enough time has passed. Enough wounds have healed. It is time the fans cheered Bowden's name again, and time that Bowden heard it.

Perhaps someday. Perhaps soon. Perhaps once Fisher has established a new era of excellence, the moment will feel right to everyone involved.

As Bowden says, he is 82 dadgum years old.

If a program and a legend are going to re-establish a relationship, it's about dadgum time.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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