Bobby Bowden's pregame "Iffy meetings" prepare for just about every situation.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 2, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden began a Friday night ritual more than three decades ago in a hotel outside of Morgantown, W.Va., with a bar of soap and a mirror.
"Me and my offensive coordinator would go to my room and we'd start talking about calls," he said.
He called it his "Iffy meeting."
If we're on our 20, the right hash mark, first play of the game and the defense is showing eight in the box, what will we run?
If the ball's on the left hash mark, then what?
If it's third and goal at the 3?
If, if, if ...
"There's hundreds of if questions you can ask," Bowden said. "We'd use the soap to draw on the mirror."
It wasn't exactly high-tech back in the day, but he found the final cram session before the next day's game effective and comforting, sure that play choices given varying situations would be fresh in his mind.
So, all these years later, on Friday evening around 9, you'll find him lounging in shorts, a T-shirt and often barefoot in his suite, diet sodas and snacks within reach, and surrounded by his entire offensive staff, spiritedly discussing as many questions as possible.
"The goal is to be prepared; if this occurs, this is what we'll do," he said.
About the only change, other than the number of coaches present, is he arranges for a chalkboard (or grease board), chalk and eraser. The soap remains in the bathroom, the mirror clean. After two or more hours, Bowden and his assistants will finalize the play-calling sheet.
This week's opponent is North Carolina State (3-4, 1-4); a critical ACC matchup for the No. 9-ranked Seminoles (7-1, 5-1) who can clinch the Atlantic Division and a berth in the Dec.3 inaugural league championship with a win.
"He wants to know why a play's going to work; you have to state your case," longtime running backs coach Billy Sexton said.
"We get on the board and show him everything we're doing: formations, how we're attacking coverages, what we're doing down in the red zone," offensive line coach Mark McHale added. "It keeps you alert to who you are offensively. ... He goes through everything, from A-Z. It's really unbelievable."
N.C. State coach Chuck Amato, who spent 18 years as a defensive assistant at FSU, had the same take.
Hoping to gain a sense for how the other half lives, something he figured would help him if he one day became a head coach, Amato asked Bowden if he could sit in on the "Iffy meeting."
"I had a pad and a pen and I just wrote down everything that could help a defensive coach learn about what offensive people think in their strategy the day before a game," Amato said. "It was so very, very thorough. ... It was very enlightening to see how a mind like Bobby Bowden's works the night before a football game."
He wasn't merely seen and not heard. Bowden and the offensive coaches would pick Amato's brain. That allowed him to play his favorite role, a devil's advocate, filling a much needed role that Bowden hasn't fully replaced since Amato left for his alma mater after the 1999 national championship.
"He was always like that," Bowden said. "We'd use him as a sounding board."
But the "Iffy meeting" didn't just involve play choices.
If our top three tailbacks get hurt (something that happened a few years back at Wake Forest), then what?
If we want to get in our backup quarterback (Xavier Lee this season), when should it be?
If it's storming, what do we do?
If, if, if ...
"Let me say this: you can go out there and in one series, the whole thing is gone. Dead," he said of the plans. "Maybe they don't do what you expect them to do. Every team we have played so far has run something new against us that we hadn't seen them do. Maybe they put in a blitz from this side. Maybe it's from that side. Maybe they double covered that guy. You see something different and it will change your calls, so you have to make adjustments."
While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and few groups like to flatter their brethren as much as coaches do, you don't find many conducting a Friday "Iffy meeting."
McHale has worked for numerous coaches, but said only Curley Hallman, for whom he served at Southern Mississippi, had anything close. But it was brief and dealt mainly with situations, such as what to run for a two-point try.
Amato doesn't have his offensive coaches do it. Even Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, who used to have an "Iffy meeting" if his first few years as a head coach, has deviated from his father's way as he's delegated more of the play-calling responsibilities to his offensive coordinator.
"I think there's an advantage if you're in my father's position," he said. "If you notice, those "Iffy meetings' he had 30 years ago, he wore the headset the whole game and called plays. He's having the same "Iffy meetings' now, but he's not wearing a headset. ... He's developed a comfort zone with it and I think he sleeps better on Friday night if he's had that."
It does make him feel better, so why mess with success?