’Nole longer in charge
Published 3:50 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Bobby Bowden orchestrated one of the great runs in college football, building Florida State into a powerhouse that produced two national titles, dozens of All-Americans and some of the most memorable missed field goals ever.
Bowden said Tuesday he will end his 44-year coaching career after the Seminoles play in a bowl game. Bowden was done in by a combination of off-field woes, too many defeats and coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher ready to take over.
“Nothing lasts forever, does it?” a relaxed-looking Bowden asked during video interview conducted by school officials. “But I’ve had some wonderful years here at Florida State, you know it. Hadn’t done as good lately as I wish I could have, but I’ve had wonderful years, no regrets.”
The 80-year-old Bowden will retire as the second winningest coach in major-college football behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno. The folksy coach has won 388 games at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State, where he spent the last 34 seasons.
Bowden was faced with the option of coming back next season with diminished control over the program, giving Fisher more power.
“We’ve got one more game and I look forward to enjoying these next few weeks as the head football coach,” Bowden said earlier Tuesday in a statement released by the school.
The Seminoles are bowl eligible at 6-6, and were awaiting word on where they will play. They’re also awaiting word from the NCAA on whether 14 victories in recent seasons will be vacated because of an academic cheating scandal.
Bowden won two national titles at Florida State, in 1993 and 1999. Among his top achievements is a string of 14 straight seasons ending in 2000 when the Seminoles won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five of the AP poll. Florida State was 152-19-1, an .864 winning percentage, during that span. He has a 315-97-4 record with the Seminoles, but his teams were 73-42 the past nine seasons.
“He set records of achievement on the field that will probably never be equaled,” Florida State president T.K. Wetherell said. “Bobby Bowden in many ways became the face of Florida State. It was his sterling personality and character that personified this university.”
FSU officials announced after the 2007 season that Fisher, the offensive coordinator, would succeed Bowden.
The end of the Bowden era has been brewing for years, and the call for change only grew louder this year, when loss after loss, many coming in the final minutes, began piling up. The regular season ended with a sixth straight loss to bitter rival Florida, a 37-10 blowout.
A football lifer, Bowden modeled his career after his idol Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach who died shortly after he retired in 1982.
“After you retire, there’s only one big event left,” Bowden has said over the years. “And I ain’t ready for that.”
Bowden seemed to be in good humor during the video interview, saying his family doesn’t have to worry about his well being.
“Now, you know I have to go out and get a job. Can you believe that?” he said. “I’ve got to go get a job. I ain’t had a job in 55 years.”
Paterno called Bowden a tough competitor who “has meant an awful lot to the universities he coached and to the game of football overall.
“He and his wife, Ann, have dedicated their lives with untold hours to better the teams and universities they cared so much about,” Paterno said. “They will be missed by the coaching profession and college football.”
Bowden relished the spotlight and his “aw shucks” approach was well received everywhere he went. It was during the rare losses when Bowden was at his best, relying on his favorite phrase “Dadgumit” when discussing all those wide-right and wide-left field goals against Miami in the late 1980s and early 1990s that knocked so many of his teams out of national title contention.
Bowden also got caught up in NCAA investigations. The cheating scandal is the just the latest. The school was hit with five years’ probation for a 1993 incident when several of his players were given free shoes and sporting goods from a local store. That led to former Florida coach Steve Spurrier calling Florida State “Free Shoes University.”
Bowden and winning, though, go hand in hand. He goes into a final bowl game with an overall 388-129-4 record. After his first Florida State team went 5-6 in 1976, the Seminoles never had a losing season.
Among the stars who played for Bowden were Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, defensive backs Deion Sanders and LeRoy Butler, running back Warrick Dunn, receiver Peter Warrick and nose guard Ron Simmons.
“There’s been so many great players through our program,” Bowden said. “I’ve had quite a few calls today from them. And then somebody says, any great game? Well, they’re all great. Well there were some pretty dadgum big ones. We won our share, we didn’t win them all, but we did win our share.”
Bowden’s national titles came in ’93 with Ward guiding the Seminoles to a 12-1 record and a title-clinching win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The next national crown came six years later, with Weinke and All-American Warrick leading the ’Noles to a perfect 12-0 record capped by a win over Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
The ’93 title was perhaps Bowden’s greatest moment. It came after near misses in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1992 — thanks to missed kicks against Miami. In ’87, it was a missed field goal, missed extra point and failed 2-point conversion in a 26-25 loss; in ’88 the ’Noles only loss was 31-0 against Miami in the season-opener; in ’91 Gerry Thomas was wide right in a 17-16 loss; and in ’92, Dan Mowrey was wide right on a game-tying attempt in a 19-16 loss. Wide right III occurred in a 2000 loss against Miami, but Florida State still made it to the title game before losing to Oklahoma, 13-2.
Bowden’s lone perfect season in ’99 made history as the Seminoles became the first team to go wire-to-wire in AP ranked No. 1 from preseason to final poll.
“The first championship was more of a relief,” Bowden said. “I think I was able to enjoy the second one a little more.”
A few more failed field goals against Miami followed. In 2002, Xavier Beitia was wide left on a last-play, 43-yard attempt in 28-27 loss and Beitia was wide right late in the fourth quarter in a 16-14 Orange Bowl loss to Miami in 2004.
Other than Miami, Bowden’s Seminoles were a dominant force. They won the Atlantic Coast Conference 12 times in their first 14 seasons after joining the league in 1992.
Bowden built Florida State’s program by scheduling tough opponents — usually on the road. He was dubbed “King of the Road” in 1981 after playing consecutive road games at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and LSU. The Seminoles won three of the five.
Other rough patches under Bowden included Randy Moss being kicked out of school for smoking marijuana, Warrick’s suspension in 1999 for his involvement in a shopping scam and quarterback Adrian McPherson’s dismissal in 2002 amid rumors of gambling.
Bowden, a native of Birmingham, Ala., also is the patriarch of college football’s most famous coaching family. Sons Tommy and Terry have been head coaches — Tommy at Tulane and Clemson; Terry at Auburn and currently at North Alabama. Another son, Jeff, was FSU’s offensive coordinator in 2005-06, but the team had its lowest production in a quarter-century and lost 11 times over those two seasons. He was forced to resign after working for his father for 13 seasons.
Bowden’s oldest son, Steve, did not get into coaching but was arrested in 2003 on a multimillion investment scam that cost his father $1.6 million.