Bobby must go? Never mind

Once-bitter FSU fans see a change for the better in football program.

Published May 4, 2007

Six months ago, Florida State football fans weren't the happiest, most optimistic bunch around.

Their team was in the midst of its worst season in a generation and a good number of frustrated, disappointed and exasperated die-hards sent e-mails and letters to school officials demanding an intervention.

Some asked, begged or even demanded that President T.K. Wetherell prompt coach Bobby Bowden to overhaul his staff. Some, with angst and guilt oozing off the page, called for him to fire or to persuade the iconic coach to retire. Others threatened to withhold financial contributions until he acted.

Six months later, the mood, for many of those same fans, has changed.

Yes, FSU struggled to have a winning record 7-6. Yes, it failed to sign a single five-star recruit. Yes, it will face one of the most daunting schedules it has had in years in 2007. Yes, those daggum Florida Gators won the national title - in football and, for a second straight time, in basketball to add insult to agony. And yes, many FSU fans are nonetheless as giddy as they've been in years.

"They are (upbeat) and it's natural when you have new coaches like we have, " said Bowden, who will be in Tampa today as his annual tour of booster clubs continues.

Gone are Jeff Bowden (offensive coordinator/receivers), Daryl Dickey (quarterbacks), Mark McHale (offensive line) and Billy Sexton (running backs). Kevin Steele (linebackers) left for a promotion as Alabama's defensive coordinator.

In are Jimbo Fisher (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Rick Trickett (line), Lawrence Dawsey (receivers), Dexter Carter (backs) and former longtime assistant Chuck Amato (linebackers).

"This is my last shot. I'm 77. I doubt if I can go past 87, " Bowden said, laughing. "I had to hire people who could get the job done. That doesn't mean we're just going to walk in and start winning games (next season), but I know this, we'll be heading in the right direction."

He's not alone in that belief.

"The optimism is higher than it's been in years, " said Dakine Beckman, 35, an FSU alumnus, athletic contributor and among the couple of hundred fans who e-mailed Wetherell or Seminole Boosters president Andy Miller in October. "The Seminole nation is excited."

Patrick Varnes, who in October urged, almost begged Wetherell to "save a program" that was going downhill and give "Coach Bowden a rousing departure" that he deserved, said now that Bowden "addressed a lot of the concerns of the Seminole faithful."

"I think if he can turn this one around, he should stay as long as he wants, " he wrote.

"I couldn't be happier, " echoed Alex Salabarria, 39, an alumnus and contributor who voiced his displeasure with the staff after the Oct. 5 loss at North Carolina State. "I'm not expecting the world this year; I still think we have a couple of years of work to do, but I feel really good about the direction we're going."

He and others are thrilled with the quality and quantity of oral commitments FSU has received already: linebackers Nigel Bradham (Crawfordville Wakulla), Nigel Carr (Jacksonville First Coast) and Vincent Williams (Davenport Ridge); running back Jermaine Thomas (First Coast); safeties C.J. Holton (Wakulla) and Nick Moody (Philadelphia Roman Catholic); and defensive tackles Anthony Hill (Pensacola) and Moses McCray (Middleton).

Folks who said six months ago that they wouldn't be writing checks told the Times they had or will be. Beckman had said he had scrubbed plans to double his donation to $1, 200, but went ahead with that pledge and bought season tickets for the first time.

Russ Vorhis said in October that he had planned to become a Golden Chief (minimum contribution $6, 000) and set up a life insurance trust designating Seminole Boosters as the beneficiary but wouldn't "until major changes are made within our coaching staff."

"Yes, I lived up to my end of the deal, and I am very optimistic with the changes that have occurred, " he said in an e-mail to the Times.

Seminole Boosters executive director Charlie Barnes said he has been "flooded with positive responses" when annual pledges and season-ticket orders went out in January, which coincided with many of the coaching changes. Barnes travels with Bowden during his tour of local booster clubs in April and May and said those get-togethers and golf outings have been jammed.

"One woman in Panama City rescheduled her chemotherapy so she could hear Bobby, " Barnes said. "The exuberance is extreme."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.