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FSU wide right on booting announcer Peter Tom Willis

It was sad to see Peter Tom Willis forced out as a radio analyst for Florida State football games. It was sadder still to see honesty forced out with him.

Willis, a former FSU quarterback who had been in the booth for 10 years, was told this month that his contract would not be renewed because the administration felt he was too critical.

So now, I suppose, the Seminoles are free to hire a softer radio voice.

And all it cost them was their integrity.

My goodness, this was wrong. Too wrong to be ignored.

How does an institution of higher learning send the message that offering honest and well-informed criticism is a firing offense? How does a fan base accept this with so little complaint?

Isn't a college campus a place where independent thinking is encouraged? A place where the quest for knowledge and understanding is supposed to be a good thing?

Willis' sin was that he did his job too well. He saw a struggling football team, and he tried to explain where the problems existed. Apparently, he would have been better off pretending to be a lovable goof.

"The one thing I've learned traveling and being around fans the last 10 years is that we don't give them enough credit for knowing what is happening on the field, and knowing every little detail about their team," Willis said. "Not only did I want to be honest, but I had to be honest. The fans can see what's going on.

"Anybody who has ever listened to a broadcast knows how much I love Florida State. And how much I love Coach (Bobby) Bowden. I just want what's best for the university and, if they say they're better off without me, I can live with that. It's disappointing, but I don't want to be a troublemaker."

Here's the part I don't get. You expect corporate spin from an oil company spokesman or an insurance industry executive because they have no allegiance other than their own bottom line.

But do you really want to be fed a plate of hooey while listening to a football game? Would you be happier if the announcers from your own school were ignoring the obvious?

Being critical is not the same thing as being hateful. You can say Joe Versus the Volcano was a horrible movie and still think Tom Hanks is a superb actor. You can also say FSU played a crappy game on Saturday and still be a diehard fan.

A few years ago, Willis said FSU was operating with a high school offense. The line angered Bowden, who took it as an attack on son Jeff, who was then the offensive coordinator.

Willis apologized to Bowden, and has often said he regretted the comment. Yet, not long afterward, FSU spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of Jeff Bowden. In essence, the university confirmed an observation Willis apologized for making.

"I said some things on the air that I wish I had back to say over," Willis said. "Sometimes I got too emotional and I may have said some things in the wrong way. But I'm passionate about FSU, and if I didn't point out the things I saw, then I wouldn't have been doing my job."

And that, folks, would be the problem.

What, exactly, does Florida State want from this job? Do officials want a glorified fan spewing nonsense in the microphone, or do they want a well-intended analyst to explain the game?

You know, it is possible to be a loyal employee without being a shill. I was a Reds fan growing up and loved listening to Marty Brennaman on the radio because he would get as annoyed as I would when the team screwed up. Harry Caray could go from cheerleader to grouch in the same at-bat.

Show me an announcer who sees no wrong, and I'll show you a channel that needs to be changed.

The bottom line is FSU is acting as if it is afraid of criticism. The administration, the coaching staff and, ultimately, the fans who are silently sitting by.

Believe me, I think Bobby Bowden is a wonderful man. He is a tremendous coach and an amazing ambassador for the university and college football. He is also, for someone who has spent 40 years in the public eye, terribly thin-skinned.

Bowden is fond of pointing out how no one can reasonably expect a football team to have as much success as FSU did from 1987 to 2000. And he's absolutely right.

But he should also realize no coach can reasonably expect to see as many kisses and bouquets thrown his way as Bowden did during the 1980s and '90s.

His teams have been a step ahead of mediocre for the past three seasons, and they've had more off-field troubles than a program can reasonably expect.

Like it or not, some amount of criticism has to be expected.

It comes with the territory, and the $2.5-million salary.

Should the Seminoles be happy that their own broadcaster was part of the criticism? Heck no. Instead of silencing the critic, they should be more concerned with fixing the problem.

And here's the ironic thing:

The guy who was fired is one of their truest fans.

"I was fortunate to spend 10 years doing a job I loved at the university where I went to school and played football," Willis said. "I'll always pull for Florida State. Trust me, I'm not bitter."

No, just honest.

FSU wide right on booting announcer Peter Tom Willis 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 12:08pm]

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