Florida State president T.K. Wetherell moved to stem mounting criticism of coach Bobby Bowden and appeared poised to enhance the security of coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher.
Wetherell issued a statement Wednesday that no coaching changes would occur during this season and the school would begin working on a long-term contract with Fisher, who has a deal to be offered the head coaching job by January 2011 or receive $5 million.
"FSU does not make coaching changes in the middle of the season," Wetherell said, responding to calls for Bowden to retire at season's end that intensified after the team fell to 2-3. "Any coach can choose to retire at any time. However, it is the athletics director's responsibility to determine which coaches are hired and which contracts are extended.''
Wetherell reiterated the 2-year-old agreement designating Fisher the coach in waiting but indicated some modifications might be made and his support of Fisher hasn't wavered.
"Jimbo Fisher will be Florida State University's next head football coach," Wetherell's statement said.
What Fisher's new deal might entail is fueling the rumor mill.
Some suggest the school needs to guarantee him a five-year contract. Security is important for Fisher because Wetherell has announced his retirement in January or when the school has his replacement.
FSU booster and board of trustee member Les Pantin Jr. said the school should honor its agreement with Bowden through the end of the 2010 season but should also "strengthen Jimbo Fisher's position as the next head coach."
Some believe Fisher's influence over staff changes for next season should increase even if Bowden decides to return, though it is unclear whether that will be a formal part of a contract. More likely is Bowden heavily considers Fisher's input in staff changes, such as a replacement for defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who has indicated he likely will retire at season's end. Bowden has been amenable to the transition to Fisher.
For his part, Bowden sounded more upbeat Wednesday during the weekly ACC coaches teleconference when his status — and not Saturday's game against Georgia Tech — dominated questioning.
"I appreciate his support," Bowden, in his 34th season at FSU, said of Wetherell. "I think he's wise, and I'm very thankful.
"The last time I went through this, I was in West Virginia, 1974. I was going through the same daggum thing. And my president and my athletic director came to me and said, 'Bobby, we don't care what they say. You are the guy.' And they stuck with me. So anyway, I've been through it before. I wish it didn't occur, but daggumit, there ain't but one answer — winning."
For the past two years, Bowden has been working under one-year contracts with the understanding he had the choice to renew it for another year after meeting with Wetherell.
Wetherell's statement said he has talked to Bowden at length, including Monday, and, "I know he will do the right thing as he always has done. I know the man, and I know what's in his heart."
Wetherell did not respond to a call or e-mail.
"If I were 40 years old, I'd be shaking in my boots," Bowden said of the heat from fans and prominent boosters. "But I'm 79. I've been through it, and most of my coaching is behind me. So no, it doesn't bother me that much.
"The only thing I'm worried about or concerned about: Is it a distraction for my team? And I don't think it is. ... When you get my age and you know you're not going to coach forever, you would like to go out on top. So it's disappointing to me right now. The thing I try to tell my people is this, 'The season ain't over. Let's get the season over and see what happens.' "
He also added: "When the season's over, I'll let them know if I want to come back."