Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, caught up in a firestorm about his future, confessed that last week's comeback win at North Carolina was a weight off of every Seminole's back.
Including his own.
"But what does that mean? Seven more days of peace?" he deadpanned.
Actually the schedule allows for a bit more relative serenity; the Seminoles (3-4, 1-3 ACC) snapped a three-game skid Oct. 22 in Chapel Hill and next play Saturday at home against North Carolina State (3-4, 0-3).
Still, his point is taken. When your team is struggling or failing to live up to the standard set during an era of unprecedented success, as is FSU, the coach is going to shoulder increasing criticism. And when you're about to turn 80, as Bowden will Nov. 8, the load is even heftier.
"It's predictable," he said. "Once you get a certain age, man, if you're not successful, then they're going to say, 'He's too old,' and, 'He's forgot everything.' … All you have to do is keep up with history.''
His old pal at Penn State, Joe Paterno, heard calls to retire when his teams strung together losing seasons in this decade. Then there's a case of another iconic coach in the South who defied every obstacle to put his school's program on the map and establish it as model, only to see the power brokers try to force him out when his team's fortunes fell. In a way, that happened.
Grambling State's Eddie Robinson.
After consecutive losing seasons (and some minor NCAA trouble), Robinson agreed to return for just one more season, 1997, then step aside. He did. He was 78 at the time.
"Maybe something within him might have really been hurt, but he never said anything about it and I never heard him blame anybody about it," his son, Eddie Jr., said. "If he had those types of feelings, I guess he held that in.
"As a matter of fact, he would console me on it. … I used to kind of get upset about that but my father didn't. He always just told me, 'Everybody loves a winner.' "
And when the Tigers didn't win, his father's age suddenly became the reason du jour. Eddie Jr. said even when his father wasn't a card-carrying member of the AARP, critics would say he was "too old."
"The years he was getting older and we'd win, that would kind of hold them at bay, but you could still feel them looking for some excuse," he said.
After the 1996 team went 3-8, then-Louisiana Gov. Murphy James Foster lobbied for Robinson to get another season to go out on his terms and as a winner. His swan song ended with a 30-7 loss to Southern in the Bayou Classic at the New Orleans Superdome and a second straight 3-8 record. Following a postgame call from President Bill Clinton and a teary-eyed news conference, he walked away exuding his trademark gentility. He won 408 games during his 57-year career.
"He became a Grambling fan," Eddie Jr. said. "He and my mom (Doris) went to games and they hollered for the team. Sometimes he'd drive out there some evenings and sit in the car and watch them work out. But he never pushed himself on the university. If they asked him to do something, he would do it. If they didn't, he was just happy to be a fan."
Coach Robinson died in April 2007.
His son doesn't like, but understands, the recent treatment of Bowden. The chairman of FSU's Board of Trustees, Jim Smith, has called for Bowden to announce his resignation effective at the end of the season.
Many fans have written letters and e-mails to school president T.K. Wetherell and athletic director Randy Spetman urging them to show Bowden the door so the Jimbo Fisher era can begin in 2010 instead of a year later. (Fisher's contract states FSU must offer him the job by January 2011 or give him $5 million.) Other fans have voiced their support for Bowden to stay on as long as he wants, including Gov. Charlie Crist. For his part, Wetherell has said only that Bowden and his status will be evaluated at season's end.
"I think that they should give him all of his respect and let him go out the way he wants to. That's just my feeling," Eddie Robinson Jr. said. "My father thought a lot of Coach Bowden and the Robinson family thinks a lot of him. … I hope everything works out for him. Fans are great and they're the same everywhere, but they're messing around with a legend."