Call it curtains for Jeff Bowden
FSU's oft-criticized offensive coordinator resigns effective after the season over dad's objections.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published November 15, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - For Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and son Jeff, his offensive coordinator/receivers coach, Tuesday afternoon's practice began much like any other.
They rode onto the practice field in a golf cart together to share some thoughts and time before the players trotted out for their couple hours of work.
But this was anything but the typical day.
Jeff Bowden, 46, the lightning rod for criticism ever since his promotion in 2001 after serving as receivers coach since 1994, disregarded his father's advice and last-minute pleas and surprisingly resigned Tuesday, effective at the end of the season.
"Twenty-five plus years ago, he taught myself and lot of players that have come through here to do what is right," Bobby Bowden said of Jeff, who played and worked for his father. "And that's the reason I'm here because I believe in my heart that for Bobby Bowden, this is a decision I need to make and ... maybe the most important, it's a decision I need to make for my family."
Bobby Bowden, 77, has been a steadfast supporter of his son's job performance even as both have faced increasing ire from fans and boosters.
"I am disappointed in Jeff's decision," he said in a statement. "I tried my best to encourage him to stay the course, but he was firm in his belief that is it time to move. This is a big loss to me personally."
The players were taken aback when they arrived at the Moore Athletic Center for their regular meetings and learned the news.
"You spend so much time with a guy," quarterback Drew Weatherford said, "and to know that he's not going to be our offensive coordinator anymore is upsetting."
"There's finger-pointing going on and maybe people will feel things will get better because he's gone," senior tailback Lorenzo Booker added, "but that doesn't do anything but want to make us finish the season stronger to try to convince people that we're a family. We win as a team, we lose as a team."
Bowden will be reassigned outside the athletic department after the season, perhaps before a bowl. That position will run through August when his contract that pays about $141,000 expires. After that, he will have an ongoing relationship with the school.
Although he took no questions Tuesday, Jeff Bowden seemed at ease, his voice never cracking during his short address.
As late as Monday night, as he remained on the practice field for about 20 minutes talking excitedly to the media about how bright the team's future was, he never gave a hint he wouldn't be part of it. Nor did he give any indication this season has been any more difficult for him than the previous three or four. He has continued to avoid newspapers, talk radio and the Internet and ignores the bedsheets, T-shirts and buttons that have called for him to lose his job.
"I couldn't survive (otherwise)," he said.
But earlier Monday, he had met with athletic director Dave Hart about resigning.
"There was a mutual understanding and agreement that this decision was in the best interests of all concerned and that a public announcement should be expedited for the sake of all," Hart said. "The innuendo and speculation, to have that continually go into the next two weeks, that wasn't going to be fair to anyone involved."
Since the departure of Mark Richt, the offense has struggled.
Saturday night, the Seminoles were embarrassed by Wake Forest, 30-0. That's their first shutout at home since 1973. FSU (5-5) is in danger of not reaching the necessary six wins for bowl eligibility for the first time since 1981.
"What we've been doing over the past few years has not been working to the standard we're used to," said Scott Roix of Largo, a national officer of Seminole Boosters Inc. and a million-dollar donor who has been a steadfast supporter of Bobby Bowden. "To move this program back to the national prominence where we've gotten so accustomed and so spoiled by, something needed to happen."
"I think Jeff came to the realization that the program was bigger than he was," former Seminoles defensive back and current SunSports announcer Keith Jones said. "He did what any of us would do in our playing days if we felt like we weren't contributing, or a little bit of a detriment. You put your personal feelings aside, your personal desires and you do what's best for the program, even if you don't agree with it."
That's not to say either holds Jeff Bowden solely responsible for FSU's decline. Even some critics of the offense share that view.
"Jeff Bowden is not the reason our offense is bad," said former FSU quarterback Peter Tom Willis, the Seminoles' radio analyst who has been outspoken about the offensive woes. "It's the whole offense; it's not just one position or one coach. I don't know if you want to say it hit rock bottom last week, but I will say this: It should be a big-time wakeup call for the players."
Possible candidates for the coordinator job include Jimbo Fisher, who holds that job at LSU and worked for Terry Bowden at Auburn, and George Henshaw, a former assistant for Bobby Bowden at West Virginia and FSU and now an assistant with the New Orleans Saints. The decision could hinge on whether this is the only job that needs to be filled. Rumors have swirled around quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey, running backs coach Billy Sexton, who could retire after 30 years, and offensive line coach Mark McHale.
"I want to thank the university. I want to thank Coach Bowden. I want to thank the players I've been fortunate enough to coach," Jeff Bowden said. "My biggest regret is I won't be here the next time Coach Bowden gets to hold up the crystal ball."
A program in decline?
FSU's yearly performance under offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who took over a year after the Seminoles led the nation in total offense. Stats are per game:
Year Pts/rank Total yds./rank Pass yds./rank Rush yds./rank
2001 33.9/21 426.1/26 266.5/26 159.6/54
2002 30.6/32 398/32 211.1/62 187/35
2003 32.2/25 402.9/37 269.6/25 133.2/77
2004 25.2/57 372.5/61 210.5/63 162/50
2005 28.9/44 376.6/59 282.6/18 94/109
2006* 25.9/47 337.8/65 234.7/29 103.1/98
*Through 10 games