It started eight years ago with Bobby Bowden hiring friends over the most qualified available coaches. It cast doubt in the mind's of Florida State fans as Bowden strong-armed the 'Nole's administration to skirt state nepotism laws and have his son hired as offensive coordinator.. It continued with poor recruiting evaluations and lazy, outdated recruiting practices. It snowballed with a general decline in passion for coaching and the corresponding drop in effort and accountability. A head coach's public disdain for his university and its fans after Florida State finally forced out maligned recruiting coordinator Jeff Bowden didn't help matters. Never accepting or even publicly acknowledging Offensive Coordinator's Jimbo Fisher's Head Coach in waiting (HCiW) succession plan, and allowing other lame duck but loyal assistants to undermine the future of the program set the Noles back too. Call it the "Nepotism Era" or if you prefer, the "Lost Decade." But Florida State University Board of Trustee's Chairman Jim Smith, one of the original six to bring Bowden to Florida State in 1976, is calling for its end.
The season has not gone well for Bobby Bowden. The Noles sit at 2-3 for the first time in a quarter century, and are 0-2 in the ACC for the first time ever With seven 2008 bowl teams left on the schedule, they are a longshot to finish the season with a winning record. A bowl game appears to be the only remaining season goal for the Seminoles. Bowden has repeatedly appeared confused and uninformed in interviews, which embarrassed the program. In one notable example, after barely squeaking out a win at home over a 1AA school, Bowden repeatedly referred to Jacksonville State as "Troy." Rumors abound that he has missed parts of practices and maybe even a pre-game speech. Florida State clearly lacks a leader, and the best available leader, Jimbo Fisher, isn't allowed to lead because he lacks head coach in his title. Officially, Florida State has a head coach, an assistant head coach, and an executive head coach, but Fisher holds none of those titles. So despite his status as the heir-apparent, he is unable to effectuate the changes Florida State's crumbling program so desperately needs. Insiders say it is Fisher and some offensive assistants, notably James Coley, who are managing to hold the program together by its threads.
Many football people realized Bowden needed to go years ago. The most vocal among them has been Jeff Cameron of 1270 The Team, who has been shunned by Bowden since 2001, when he was the only one publicly stating that Bobby Bowden was no longer an effective coach or leader. Cameron recaps much of the Lost Decade in this Audio Clip. But Bowden had built up so much goodwill, that it was difficult if not impossible to get rid of him. So the program continued to become more and more antiquated. Bowden said he knew what was wrong and that he would fix it. Unfortunately for Bowden, the problem was and continues to be himself. The loss to South Florida struck a chord with many longtime complacent FSU fans, who had long been happy to sit idly by as Florida State continued to slide, accepting of the role as the most underachieving team in college football (relative to talent and resources, of course). Maybe it was USF's proximity to many of their homes. Maybe it was the lackluster play. Whatever the reason, FSU's fanbase woke up. 'Nole fans wrote letters. They protested. On TomahawkNation.com, membership increased 5% in the week following the South Florida Debacle. People spoke their minds. They threatened to speak with their wallets come next season.
Some inside the program had enough as well. The leaks began and soon the 'Nole's fan base was aware of the rumors of coaches fighting other coaches in practice (literally), and lame duck coaches doing everything in their power to undermine the few coaches who will be trusted to take Florida State back to prominence.
Then came the Boston College game. In one play, FSU's 106th ranked defense allowed more yards to the Eagles than Boston College had gained in their entire game against Clemson. Players and coaches were seen arguing on the sideline. Rumors swirled of an altercation on the team plane on the way to the game. Whether true or not, the true measure of just how bad of a job Bowden was doing was that most Florida State fans believed the rumors. The team needs a leader and Bowden is incapable of providing that leadership. He's out of touch, and the gap between his loyalty to some and distrust of others is widening.
Bowden couldn't have handled the losing any worse. He said that the fans were lucky he still wanted to coach the 'Noles. He called those who questioned his son's play-calling "Playstation All-Americans." Former 'Nole All-American quarterback P.T. Willis lost his broadcasting job after describing the offense directed by Bowden's son as "high school."
Bowden's comments increasingly show a lack of awareness for the situation. He stated that he would decide whether he continues to coach, failing to show any deference to his employer, Florida State University. After the Boston College loss, Bowden was downright flippant, and it was again all about him:
"What would I gain by stepping down right now? Fire everyone and bring in a whole new coaching staff? You can't do that. I'm going to evaluate myself, but I'll wait to the end of the year."_ Bobby Bowden
Mixed with his refusal to acknowledge the terms of Fisher's agreement- which calls for Fisher to be named the head coach by January 2011 or be paid a $5 Million penalty, the comments angered Florida State fans. Eight years of poor effort and squandered resources, all while being compensated $2.5 Million per season, and yet he would be the only one to evaluate his position? His team, under his leadership, is just 4-6 in their last 10 games against Division-1 teams, 19-24 against BCS teams (without Duke). The Noles have lost their last 4 home games against Division 1 competition. And yesterday, Bowden showed that he just doesn't care. After a long line of excuses blaming the players for the loss, and failing to accept any of the blame, he added this gem:
"50 percent of the teams in the country last week got beat. Fifty percent of them. They're all asking the same questions you are. This is part of football. You win some, you lose some." ... "This ain't the first time I've been through this."_ Bobby Bowden
Worse yet, many wonder how much Bowden cares about the 'Nole's program. His comments after his son's firing and antagonistic treatment of the fan base left a sour taste in the mouth of many. The real problem though, is his lack of public acquiescence to the succession plan. Fisher and recruiting coordinator/ prized tight ends coach James Coley overhauled much of the recruiting problems that made the 2006 and 2007 classes a colossal failure. They successfully brought in excellent classes in '08 and '09, and the team is now comprised of 71% underclassmen, brought in by them. Fisher directed the ACC's top offense last year and won Offensive Coordinator of the year. This season, Florida State is the only team in the nation to have played three ranked teams and average more than 400 yards of offense. But despite that, the 2010 recruiting collapse is fast crumbling. Recruits aren't buying what FSU is selling because they fear that Bowden will try to stay on past the specified date. Bowden won't name his retirement date. Florida State has already lost verbal commitments from its top two prospects. Another verbal commitment re-opened his recruiting and will now visit other programs. Several prospects who were considered "'Nole locks" just a few short months ago, pledged their services elsewhere. And the recruiting problems can be tied directly to the Bowden family, as the prospects referenced some recent reckless comments from disgraced former Auburn coach Terry Bowden (Bobby's son):
Terry Bowden -- Bobby's son and the first-year coach at the University of North Alabama -- believes his father should coach as long as he wants, regardless of any promised payout by FSU and Fisher.
"Pay him (Fisher)" Terry told the Birmingham (Ala.) News. "What did they pay (former Auburn coach) Tommy Tuberville when they fired him ($5.1 million)? What are they going to pay dad when they fire him? Nothing. He's retired. I'm just saying pay him and keep going."AOL Sports
Opposing coaches showed the comments to the top recruits, who decided they wanted none of that. Of course, Bowden could have remedied the situation by publicly announcing his retirement date. He has refused to do so. Terry's comments further alienated Florida State fans, who were more than a little miffed that a coach who had been paid as a top flight leader for the past 8 years while producing far less than top flight results, would feel entitled to a severance package, particularly when he was continually signing 1-year contracts. This refusal to announce a retirement date, combined with the refusal to publicly acknowledge the succession plan, has many 'Nole fans feeling Bowden will not go quietly and will need to be fired or not renewed without his consent. It doesn't help matters that his representatives were rumored to have sought a 3-year extension, which would directly conflict with the succession plan, triggering the $5 million penalty.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and Bowden is no longer relevant in the recruiting world. Recruits rarely cite playing for Bobby Bowden as a reason to come to Florida State. Current recruits were only 8 years old when Bowden won his last National Championship. That setting a definitive exit date is now his most valuable recruiting tool is ironic, but true.
Bowden has already lost this team. Under his watch, some of the lame duck assistant coaches have begun pursuing self-interests contrary to the interest's of the team, often to the direct detriment of the program. He causes and allows the fractured leadership dynamic plaguing Florida State's program to continue. He outwardly appears to delegate his authority, yet he continues to exert his misguided and out of touch influence with disastrous results. Some of the current players don't see him as the leader. One prominent player said this about him and his role:
"You get used to it. He's like a grandpa. You know you shouldn't disrespect him."
He's repeatedly addressed the team with instructions contrary to what the other coaches have taught, or with information that is just inaccurate, particularly concerning opponents. His embarrassing pre-game speech (a must watch) is routinely used by other coaches to negatively recruit against the 'Noles.
But after the Boston College game, he lost the fans as well. Florida State fans are organizing a movement to Black Out Bobby Bowden. If the Facebook Group is any indication, the support for the movement is skyrocketing. In less than 24 hours after its creation, the group's membership has swelled to over 2,200 supporters. This Saturday's game against Georgia Tech is likely to be FSU's last nationally televised game this season, and according to organizers, the plan is to have fans wear black to protest Bowden. At the rate the group is growing, more than 80% of Florida State's student section may be decked out in black come Saturday night.
But the real shock of just how little political capital Bowden has left came from the media that covers him on a daily basis. The first shot was fired in Sunday morning's edition of the Tallahassee Democrat by Steve Ellis. Ellis has covered Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles for the better part of three decades.
"It is time to move beyond the Bobby Bowden Era. ... Let players - current and future - know that the Jimbo Fisher Era has a starting point - and that starting point begins once this season is over. 'I'll evaluate myself. I'll wait to the end of the year,' Bowden said. It's too late for that. He has lost that right."
Losing the home-town paper is huge in college football. It drives the local opinion, particularly when the writer is one like Ellis who is not an extremist. When asked about an article of this magnitude, an editor from another similarly sized paper had this to say:
It is very, very unusual for this type of column to be written "hot" - that is, on deadline. Usually if the paper is going to take this kind of stand it is done in a calculated way - the editor and even the publisher get involved and carefully craft the column (or editorial) with the writer. If Ellis wrote this on his own and the weekend editor was the only person to read it, my guess is there will be a massive storm at the Tallahassee Democrat today (Sunday) and Monday. This is the kind of thing that can cause unbelievable friction between the newspaper and the university. If Ellis didn't go through the right channels on this, it's the kind of thing people get fired for.
Having said that Everybody should understand what this means. This will be the story Saturday night on ABC/ ESPN. They will show pictures of his column and it will be the entire pre-game show as it pertains to FSU. This will do a lot to hasten Bowden's departure, in my opinion.
You can all diminish the power of newspapers if you want, but this proves the undeniable fact that newspaper still wield tremendous power and this is probably the single biggest thing that could happen outside of the university to bring about the regime change we all so fervently crave.
Fisher can now wink at recruits and say "OK, you see what's happening now. I can't tell you BB is leaving, but even the newspaper has it figured out." It gives him an article to counter the trash Terry Bowden spewed.
While Ellis went out on a limb and fired the loudest shot, others had their pieces ready as well. The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi had his own column, similarly calling for Bowden to step down at the end of the season, and to announce his intentions immediately.
Bowden deserves to coach until the end of this season - but only until the end of this season. The original plan of him coaching next season before turning over the program to coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher must now be scrapped.
That plan was based on FSU improving this season and then being ready to challenge for a national title next year. That's not happening. The Seminoles are not on the way back; they're on the way backward.
Up and coming beat writer Andrew Carter, also of the Sentinel, announced he was planning a week-long series detailing the problems of the football program.
But it seems that Ellis may not have taken as big of a risk as it first seemed...
It appears he had some great comments lined up from the most powerful man at Florida State- Board of Trustee's Chairman Jim Smith, who has also served as State Attorney General, and Secretary of State, has had enough. Check out Ellis' aritcle, then come back. I want to expound upon some of the more important parts.
- It is extremely important for a voice of the administration- the only people over Bowden, to speak out. While the criticism of Bowden is warranted, the administration has done a terrible job of failing to keep their 80-year old renegade in check. A strong statement from the administration was long overdue.
- Smith understands what I said above about recruiting, and he adds the crucial quote about donations, noting that FSU's fans have been more than patient and all the goodwill, and thus the money, is gone. I've seen evidence of that. Multiple Tomahawk Nation readers have offered to give away their season tickets because they will no longer support the program if Bowden is around. Smith seems to grasp the concept that the announcement must come now. He also notes that Florida State fans have had the patience of a saint. He's right. What other major program would put up with Bowden's nonsense for 8 years?
- In furthering the idea that the change will be made at the end of this season, he simultaneously eases recruits and booster's uncertainties by announcing that Fisher will receive a 5-year contract. That 5-year contract tells recruits that Fisher will be at Florida State for their entire career.
- He also calls out president T.K. Wetherell, who is regarded by many as Bowden's lap dog (Wetherell played for Bowden at Florida State). Smith seems intent on not allowing Wetherell, who announced his retirement in June (expected to step down in early 2010), to skate on this issue, or worse yet, to sneak in a contract renewal for the man that is killing Florida State Football.
- Thankfully, Smith points out how Fisher doesn't have a voice of authority on the team because he is pushed down in the chain of command by virtue of not having "Head Coach, Executive Head Coach, Assistant Head Coach, or Administrative Head Coach" in his title.
- Finally, Smith smacks those who weakly support Bowden on the claim that he has not produced a losing season. Apparently those people now include Bowden with his "50% of teams lose every weekend" comment. Smith reiterates that Bowden hasn't earned the right to coach forever and that head coach at a top 10-15 quality program in the country is not a volunteer position. "We're not paying to support an average or mediocre program," Smith said. "We're paying for a quality program, and we're not getting that right now."
Smith said that arrangement has resulted in division among the Florida State staff, an accusation Seminole coaches have vehemently denied.
"I know coaches are sniping at each other and that's just terrible," Smith said Monday. "There are too many mixed signals."
Jim Smith said Monday the arrangement with Bowden as head coach and his successor, Jimbo Fisher, as offensive coordinator isn't working.
"We've got too many bosses out there," Smith said.
"Jimbo is in a very, very tough situation where people assume he has a whole lot more authority than he really has," Smith told The Associated Press. "He's getting blamed for a lot of things that's just not his fault."
He also said fundraising has slowed significantly, and the school has an obligation to fans and alumni to be competitive.
"I take absolutely no pleasure in this," Smith said. "I love Bobby Bowden, but I tell you what, I love FSU more."
Smith also goes on to say that Jimbo Fisher should take over immediately following the final game of the season.
Democrat writer Corey Clark wonders if this can end well for Bobby Bowden? I believe that his only hope for a graceful exit is for someone from his family, or someone close to him, to take him aside and let him know the situation. But so far, his family has done nothing but exacerbate the situation, allowing him to shoot off at the mouth and embarrass himself and the program, while adding in inflammatory comments of their own. There's a nasty rumor circulating that Bowden went to some boosters and tried to rally support to buy out Jimbo Fisher, so that he could coach long enough to outlast Joe Paterno for the all-time wins record (which he will not get due to the disgraceful academic cheating scandal and some really dumb scheduling moves), and then pass the job on to his son Terry, who currently coaches at DII North Alabama, a squad loaded with ex-Florida State players. The chat boards say his plea fell on deaf ears. I don't personally believe all aspects of the story, but what reason do Florida State fans have to believe that he will handle this situation with grace? As the Lost Decade draws to a close, I cannot think of any.
As for Fisher, he is currently catching some heat from FSU fans. He is not perfect, but one must remember to examine his performance at Florida State within the context of the sham that is Florida State's fractured leadership dynamic. He has to try to be the head coach and the offensive coordinator, yet he isn't allowed to be the head coach, or even the number two or number three in charge, but if he doesn't try the team will fall apart because those in the positions officially above him aren't capable or willing to do their job- UGH! It's not quite as simple as a team not punching the ball in from the goal line in consecutive games.
He produced the top offense in the conference. Offensive coordinator of the year. 12 of the 22 starters are underclassmen (from his recruiting classes). 7 of 11 offensive starters were recruited by Fisher. Florida State's most promising young defensive player- Greg Reid? Also recruited by Fisher, who had to convince the soon to be lame-duck defensive coaches to take the kid. Coached under Nick Saban, the master of organizational structure in college football, and brought in people to completely overhaul FSU's recruiting, which had produced the back to back disastrous recruiting classes of 2006 and 2007 (less than half of those players, recruited under the old way, remain on the team). 71% of the Scholarship (non walk-on) roster is underclassmen recruited under Fisher's changed recruiting philosophy. The few changes Fisher has been allowed to implement in the area of recruiting have payed huge dividends and did so immediately.
He also did a tremendous job to recognize quarterback Christian Ponder, whom the previous staff will admit was seen as a throw-in scholarship player, expected to provide depth somewhere down the line and nothing more. He had the guts to bench ineffective but beloved three-year Senior starting quarterback Drew Weatherford and start Ponder, just a redshirt sophomore last season. When Ponder at times looked more like a runningback than a quarterback, he stood by him, and raised the bar, calling him possibly the most talented quarterback he had ever coached. And this year, Ponder is arguably the best quarterback in the ACC, throwing for more than 270 yards in 4 of the 'Nole's 5 games, with only 1 interception in 181 tosses.
While he's very good, he is not perfect. As I mentioned, FSU fans have not been happy with two goal-line failures in recent games. That's valid criticism, but that's not looking at the whole picture. going for 4th down on the opponent's goal line is overwhelmingly the right call, not just because the team is extremely likely to score, but because of the negative leverage field position it leaves the opposing team in should the offense fail. The expectation is that the other squad will not turn around and mount a 90+ yard touchdown drive, as the Noles defense allowed following both situations, but that the offense will soon have the ball back in favorable field position
Additionally, year after year, total offense is a much more consistent indicator of offensive proficiency than points scored (sounds crazy, I know). Simply put, looking at total offense instead of points scored is more likely to tell you which offense will likely continue to be good. It's just less fluky. Teams that consistently move the ball will score and continue to move the ball, but teams with a few fluky scores probably won't consistently pull that off in the future.
This season, 19 teams have played 4 or more opponents with a winning record. Florida State is one of only 4 squads to average more than 400 yards of total offense against those opponents.
|Name||Total Offense per Game|
Even more specific,only 6 schools have played 3 games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 25. Here they are, again with their Total Offense Per Game against those top 25 schools.
|Team||Total Offense/ Game|
Under Fisher's command, FSU is the only team to face three currently ranked opponents and average more than 400 yards of total offense.
But the real takeaway is that he and his few quality offensive assistants (Coley, Trickett, Dawsey), work hard even when the other coaches on staff are not putting in the same effort, not working towards the same goal as they try to prop up their own image to secure future employment- even to the detriment of the team, or simply don't have the talent to coach major college football. And the small but dedicated group has produced results despite some coaches actively trying to undermine them.
Finally, because he has been here, Fisher and his offensive assistants have a unique understanding of the problems that plague this program, and are in the best position to act as the change agent, because they can hit the ground running and change only what needs to be changed without wasting time on unnecessary changes. He might not be the right guy, but he has shown a lot in his time here, has a great coaching pedigree, and FSU has to let him coach to find out if he is indeed the right guy.
Florida State has Fisher's two excellent recruiting classes on which to build, but those kids deserve to be coached by coaches who have an appropriate combination of ability and desire. A third excellent recruiting class could have Florida State well on its way back to national prominence. But allowing this recruiting class to come up short could trigger a disastrous chain of events for the 'Nole's. If Bowden doesn't care enough about the program he built to leave before he causes its complete collapse, then Florida State must care enough about itself to prevent the collapse. If Smith is any indication, it appears that they now do.