tampabay.com

For FSU, time is right, mood is not

By JOHN ROMANO
Published November 15, 2006


You may be tempted to joke.

To say Jeff Bowden finally called the right audible.

You may be tempted to gloat.

To say Bowden finally admitted what you knew all along.

So go ahead, have a blast with Tuesday's news that Jeff Bowden will resign as offensive coordinator at Florida State.

The decision was proper, and it was overdue.

Just remember, it was also a shame.

I say this not in defense of the job Jeff Bowden has done. At best, his performance was lacking. At worst, it was incompetent.

No, the regret is in the absence of a happy ending. For Jeff Bowden, the son who could not live up to his father's name. And for Bobby Bowden, the father who tried but could no longer protect his son.

This is what the zealots fail to see. Those who create Web sites and call radio shows and write anonymous letters filled with anger and bile.

They do not understand that the qualities that helped Bobby Bowden create one of the most successful programs in college football history are the same qualities that prevented him from using his son as scapegoat or shield.

To understand just how troubling this decision must have been, one should see the situation from two points of view.

You should evaluate first from a football standpoint, measuring numbers against the past. In that sense, it is hard to argue against a change.

FSU's offense has slipped dramatically since 2001, Jeff's first season as offensive coordinator. Scoring is down, and yardage is too. Victories are harder to come by, and prestige is fading.

Maybe it wasn't all Jeff's fault, but the coincidental timing between his promotion and the offense's struggles is hard to ignore.

Yet, you should also stop to examine it from a father's point of view. A man seeing his greatest accomplishment crushing his youngest son.

Bobby Bowden did not become a football legend because he drew plays on the chalkboard better than everyone else. A large part of his success has been his personality. His loyalty. His sincerity. His faith.

Parents trusted him and recruits respected him. Sure, he could be cornball. But he was so gracious, it was nearly impossible not to like the man.

He was demanding and ambitious, but he was never a win-at-all-costs type. And that's why he was never going to fire his own son.

Bobby Bowden built FSU's program and he was darned well going to run it his way. The more people pushed, the more firm he became.

And so it became Jeff's responsibility to fall on the sword.

He knew he was jeopardizing his father's legacy. He knew he was causing anguish for his family and for the university he attended and served.

That's why he tried to resign a year ago. Walked into his father's office and told him the program would be better off with a fresh start. Bobby refused Jeff's offer that time, but he could not talk his son out of it this time.

"Jeff did what had to be done," his brother Terry said on his ESPN radio show Tuesday afternoon.

The Bowdens have been in this business long enough to understand the price of losing. Terry was once a huge success at Auburn before being chased away. Tommy has had ups and downs as the head coach at Clemson. Bobby was vilified a generation ago as the coach at West Virginia.

Even so, this felt different. Terry acknowledged it was time for his brother to move on, but he was put off by the level of animosity among FSU fans.

"It seemed a little more vindictive, a little more ugly because of the nepotism issue with Jeff," Terry said on his show. "So it was very tough on my mother and (Jeff's) wife."

This is not the first time a legend has been faced with critiquing his offspring. Joe Paterno once stripped play-calling duties from his son Jay after a 3-9 season. Lou Holtz demoted his son Skip from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach when the heat was turned up at South Carolina.

To Bobby's credit, he valued the love of family over the cost of his reputation. And to Jeff's credit, he could no longer allow his father to take shots for him.

In the end, this is the best move for everyone.

Jeff has put in 24 years as an assistant, and 21 have been in the employ of his father or brother Terry. It's time for him to make a name on his own.

Bobby can now move forward without worrying about what it means to his son's career. His reputation, once again, is in his own hands.

And FSU fans, perhaps, can learn a bit about perspective. And loyalty. The main reason they have such high standards is because Bobby Bowden created them.

Yes, this was a decision that needed to be made.

It just doesn't need to be applauded.