Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bowden's career comes to an end (finally)

We'll never really know whether or not Bobby Bowden wanted to coach a 35th year at Florida State, but the administration had no interest in finding out. The school finally gave Bowden the ultimatum fans have been asking for on Monday, offering him the option of stepping down at the end of the year or serving as an "ambassador" next year while Jimbo Fisher took over day-to-day control of the program. Bowden apparently didn't take long to make his decision:
Legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who built one of college football's greatest dynasties in 34 seasons with the Seminoles, plans to announce his retirement Tuesday morning, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com.
We've known for the last two years that Fisher would be in control by 2011, but it's still a little jarring to think that for the first time since 1975 (!!!), Bobby Bowden won't be walking the sidelines next year with the Seminoles.

Was it time for him to go? Absolutely. The program has been in steady decline since the beginning of the decade, with six losses this season for the third time in the past four years. Recruiting has dropped off precipitously, the offense has been a joke since Mark Richt's departure for Georgia in 2001 and the once-vaunted defense has gone from dominant to decent to terrible (98th in the country this year in points per game). I said about a month ago that I had no problem with Bowden sticking around next year if he'd just allow Fisher to start planning the transition, but that obviously wasn't enough for him -- and that explains a lot of Florida State's problems.

But let's not forget the big picture: Florida State's run of 14 straight top-five finishes from 1987-2000 will probably never be duplicated (even USC has a down year now and then), and that success is even more remarkable when you consider where FSU was before Bowden arrived. When he came to Tallahassee from West Virginia in 1976, the 'Noles were coming off a miserable 19-37 four-year stretch and had appeared in one bowl in the previous eight years (a loss to Arizona State in the Fiesta Bowl, which wasn't a big game back then). Florida State went 5-6 the following year, then 10-2 in 1977. They haven't had a losing record since.

Before Bowden, FSU was 148-132-14 in its history. In the 34 years since, their record is 315-97-4. To say that Bowden put FSU on the college football map would be an understatement; he tore up the map and drew a new one with Florida State right in the middle as THE dominant program in the country for close to 15 years.

It's too bad, then, that there will always be two sides to Bowden's legacy. What I'll remember from the past decade are the Peter Warrick-led "Criminoles," the academic scandal and the program's continued slide. I don't feel sorry for him -- he brought all these problems on himself to a certain extent -- but FSU's on-field and off-the-field descent will overshadow what should legitimately be remembered as one of the greatest coaching careers ever.

Rather than going out in style, Bowden will go out as a once-great coach who lost control of his program at the end.

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