Monday, November 30, 2009

Dadgummit, Bobby's out

You might say he's lost his touch. You might say the academic fraud scandal will tarnish his legacy. You might say he just wasn't the guy to reverse the team's recent dip into mediocrity. And you're probably right about all of that.

But on the eve of his likely retirement as the Florida State football coach for as long as anyone can remember, don't forget just what Bobby Bowden did. A childhood Alabama fan who never got to coach in Tuscaloosa and whose win over the Crimson Tide in 2007 officially never happened, Bowden took over at a school where football was a sidelight -- the team had won a grand total of one bowl game ever before his arrival -- and turned it into the premier program of the 1990s.

To say FSU was dominant under Bowden's watch up until a few years ago would be a vast understatement. From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, the Seminoles won two national titles, played for several others, and probably deserved a piece of one or two more on top of that. They also went a decade and a half without losing a bowl game. As a younger man, I remember remarking during an FSU game, only half-jokingly, that the only way to give the opposing team a chance would be to force the Seminoles to punt on third down like a CFL team. Given the potency of those offenses, I still doubt it would have helped.

The team's slide was gradual, and it never was complete. FSU still hasn't had a losing season since 1976, a performance that would merit a contract extension at many programs, and perhaps even at FSU in the old days. But Bowden raised the stakes there, and now those higher stakes have forced him out the door. Oddly enough, after several years of media claims that the Seminoles are ready to turn the corner, that really might be the case next year considering the team's returning talent. If new coach Jimbo Fisher gets FSU back in the title chase quickly, Bowden will deserve at least some of the credit.

Bowden's multi-decade tenure was not without its controversies and PR disasters -- where do you think the "Free Shoes University" moniker came from? -- but it'd be hard to find a coach at a school of any size who could make that claim. Ultimately, his many successes on the job are what will endure. In time, the memories of incidents like the Dillard's arrest and the academic scandal will fade, leaving decades of success, a newly established college football powerhouse, and status as one of history's great coaches as Bowden's legacy.

That and those creepy Allstate ads. Dadgum.


Blogger Carla Jean said...

I had to skim this to avoid tearing up at work.

And I love the Allstate ads. "That wasn't Bobby Bowden." "But you still touched him."

10:30 AM  

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