Bobby, Blue, Bland: The Effect of Bobby Bowden at Florida State
During the 1992 Democratic National Convention, then vice presidential candidate Al Gore repeated the line "it's time for them to go." In Tallahassee, the words from Gore's fateful July 1992 speech are becoming a bit more vocal as fans of the Florida State Seminoles are beginning to shout, "It's time for him to go."
Now, certainly it is not a unified voice among the Seminole fan base as many fans continue to stand by the university's decision to retain head coach Bobby Bowden. But dissent is beginning to grow and one has to wonder if the ax will finally fall on the legendary head coach.
Calls for Bowden to resign are not new. Concern began to surface once Florida State began to lose its dominance in the ACC. The re-emergence of Florida as a perennial power does not help the people in Tallahassee cope with the slide either.
The claim is that the game has passed Bowden by; he is no longer "hip" and up-to-date on the present game of college football. The same statements were made about Joe Paterno. Alumni and fans of Penn State began to think that the game had passed by Paterno. Even Paterno, after a dismal 2004 season, stated that maybe he should step down (if the Nittany Lions produced another sub-par season).
But 2005 was a revitalization in Happy Valley as Penn State went 11-1 and defeated Bowden's Seminoles in the Orange Bowl. While credit certainly goes to the 2004 hiring of current offensive coordinator Galen Hall and the subsequent changes he made to the offensive attack, the fact is that Paterno adjusted and proved that he can still put together a winning team. This is proven in his 45-12 record since his suggestion of "getting [his] rear end out of" Penn State.
So, why the trouble in Tallahassee? Why has one legendary coach been able to at least fight off "forced retirement" (although critics of Paterno still exist) while another only sees critics increase each week?
It all comes down to one thing—stubbornness. And Bowden's stubborn act is manifested in two different ways.
The first manifestation is seen in his coaching staff. The hiring of Jimbo Fisher as offensive coordinator was a smart move. But it is the person that Fisher is replacing that should be drawn into question.
After Mark Richt took the head coaching job at the University of Georgia, Bowden promoted then-wide receivers coach Jeff Bowden to the offensive coordinator position. Yes, the "Bowden" name is no coincidence as Jeff is Bobby's son. And this act of nepotism was the first in a string of questionable personnel moves.
Florida State was able to circumvent any nepotism laws by having Jeff Bowden answer to the assistant head coach rather than to Bobby himself. That did not stop the offense from becoming inept. While the offense numbers appear solid in the ACC (typically top quarter of the conference since 2003), the numbers in all of the FBS are mediocre at best.
2003: 21st in points per game (PPG); 31st in yards per game (YPG)
- 2004: 66th in PPG; 70th in YPG
- 2005: 43rd in PPG; 51st in YPG
- 2006: 54th in PPG; 74th in YPG
- 2007: 91st in PPG; 83rd in YPG
- 2008: 28th in PPG; 56th in YPG
- 2009 (through Oct. 10): 44th in PPG; 25th in YPG
What this demonstrates is the offense became lackluster under Jeff Bowden. It was so awful that there was a residual effect in the first year under Jimbo Fisher (2007). This gets not only at poor game planning, but also recruiting.
Despite the bland style of play under Jeff, Bobby stood by his son even as the Seminoles were embarrassed in a 31-0 home loss to once-perennial doormat Wake Forest. Pressure finally boiled over and Jeff was forced to step down, complete with a nice pay day.
Now, despite what John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times thinks, it does appear that the offense has turned things around under Fisher. The improvement since 2007 is significant and the maturation of quarterback Christian Ponder is a testament to Fisher's success. So, the error of promoting Jeff Bowden seems to have corrected itself.
But, another hire in 2007 returns to the theme of questionable personnel decisions. After a pathetic 3-9 season with North Carolina State in 2006, Chuck Amato was welcomed back to Florida State. That decision, along with the coaxing of Mickey Andrews to remain with the Seminoles, has turned a once-proud defensive tradition into something more deserving of a WAC team.
As with the offense, here are the numbers for the Florida State defense since the 2003 season.
2003: 13th in PPG; 24th in YPG
- 2004: 6th in PPG; 5th in YPG
- 2005: 28th in PPG; 15th in YPG
- 2006: 36th in PPG; 15th in YPG
- 2007: 32nd in PPG; 37th in YPG
- 2008: 33rd in PPG; 14th in YPG
- 2009 (through Oct. 10): 90th in PPG; 108th in YPG
Now, those numbers do not demonstrate a dramatic drop over the time frame presented. But the 2009 numbers are appalling and the decline is evident in the points per game.
Does this fall on Amato? Not completely, but Bowden's choice to bring in Amato to replace Kevin Steele has played a role in recruiting.
According to Rivals.com, including the current recruiting class, Amato has brought in three defensive recruits out of 19 targets. Jimbo Fisher has brought in six defensive recruits out of 10. What does the say about a program when the offensive coordinator is bringing more defensive players than the linebacking coach.
To Amato's credit, he has brought in eight offensive players. And a couple of the defensive players that Fisher brought in were jointly recruited by Amato and Fisher. And while there is nothing against coaches recruiting for the other side of the ball, but it is worrisome that Fisher is having to target defensive players because Amato cannot bring them in.
And what of Mickey Andrews? It is certainly his defense. But being coerced to come back for a couple of more seasons has apparently burned him out and it shows in this his last season as defensive coordinator.
These questionable personnel decisions—promoting Jeff Bowden, bringing back Amato, keeping Andrews on too long—all fall on Bowden and speaks to his stubborn stranglehold on control of football operations.
The second manifestation is in his sense of entitlement. Now, here is where someone will say, "Well, he has earned his position. Bobby put in his time and he has a right to remain at Florida State." And I cannot argue against that as he certainly has earned his position.
But, consider this statement from Bowden.
"My problem is age. If I was 50, nobody would be saying a word as far as that's concerned. But at 79, he's too old. I found out when I first started, it's always this way: 'Yeah, but what have you done lately? What have you done lately?' What you used to do doesn't count, and I know it's that way. I'm ready for it. But I also know anytime something goes wrong, he's too old.'" (ESPN.com).
He is absolutely right. There is a problem with age in that he has been at the helm so long and done so much for the football program at Florida State that he seems "natural" as head coach. Age, in reference to longevity, has created a situation where he believes he is the natural fit at Florida State.
In other words, while some will use his age against Bowden, the truth is that his age might actually play a role in him remaining at FSU. And that even seems to buy into the naturalization of his position.
But there is another part of that statement that is more important. "What have you done lately?" Regardless of age, when a team struggles, it is the coach that comes under fire and not the coordinators.
Maybe Bowden is attempting to play the "age" card, but truth is, Florida State has struggled over the past few years. Since I have used 2003 as a starting point for stats, let's look at Florida State's record beginning with that season.
2003: 10-3 (7-1 in conference)
2004: 9-3 (6-2)
2005: 8-5 (5-3)
2006: 7-6 (3-5)
2007: 7-6 (4-4)
2008: 9-4 (5-3)
- 2009 (through Oct. 10): 2-4 (0-3)
So during that time frame the Seminoles are 52-31, with a 30-21 conference record. Given the previous success, most would consider that a decline. And asking "What have you done lately?" this season, it looks like not much has been done.
If a 44-year-old coach was dragging a once-proud program through those numbers, then I think that coach will be gone. Frank Solich was fired after a 9-3 record at Nebraska. Ron Zook produced a mediocre record at Florida that is comparable to Bowden's recent trend, yet he was run out of Gainesville.
Age does not seem to matter when the product on the field is lackluster. The legacy that Bowden's longevity (a product of age) produced seems to allow him a free pass, at least in his own mind.
But Bowden appears to be oblivious to the damage he is causing to his beloved program. Bowden recently stated, "If I thought I was hurting Florida State and that I couldn't do it any more, I would walk away. But that's not what I see right now."
However, his stubborn nature has led to slow, excruciating death to his coaching legacy and career. He is in fact hurting the Seminoles and yet refuses to acknowledge that.
There is no question what Bobby Bowden has accomplished in Tallahassee. He built a national powerhouse out of a perennial doormat and made Florida State what it is today. Bowden's legacy is cemented in the annals of college football history.
So, given that the field is called "Bobby Bowden Field" it would be blasphemy to criticize Bowden. Perhaps because his image adorns a stained glass window outside the stadium it would be considered decide to ask him to step down or worse, fire him.
But his job there is done.
And it is time for him to go.
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