Bowden not worried about scandal's effect on legacy

Updated: December 29, 2007, 8:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden isn't concerned about his legacy being stained by the school's current academic cheating scandal.

Bowden, whose 373 career coaching wins are two more than Penn State's Joe Paterno, takes the Seminoles into Monday's Music City Bowl game against Kentucky short three dozen players, most of which were involved in the scandal or other team violations. Some of the missing players are hurt.

I don't think you can ruin my legacy. How can you ruin it? What I've done, I've done. You can't take it away, can you?

--Bobby Bowden

"I don't think you can ruin my legacy," the 78-year-old coach said Saturday. "How can you ruin it? What I've done, I've done. You can't take it away, can you?"

In an interview with ESPN's Jack Arute, Bowden confirmed that at least 22 of the 36 football players who will miss the Music City Bowl will do so because of their involvement in a cheating scandal the school uncovered this summer.

Kentucky also found it'll be without two key players against Florida State. Wildcats coach Rich Brooks called receiver Keenan Burton "highly doubtful" to play because of a knee injury and announced guard Jason Leger, the team's top lineman, has been suspended for the game for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

The record is impressive. Bowden has won two national titles, a dozen Atlantic Coast Conference championships and perhaps the most impressive statistic of all -- an unprecedented 14 straight seasons of 10 or more wins and top-five finishes in the AP poll.

There is, however, little question that the reputation of the folksy Alabama-born Bowden has taken some hits in recent years. Bowden's decision to promote his youngest son, Jeff, to offensive coordinator in 2001, despite a school policy designed to prevent nepotism, was closely scrutinized from the onset.

After a half-dozen seasons with the offense in decline, the younger Bowden was bought out by boosters in 2006 shortly before the entire offensive staff was cashiered.

Jimbo Fisher was then brought in last January and has already been designated as Bowden's heir apparent.

"You don't ever succeed a legend," Fisher said after Saturday's long, chilly practice at a nearby high school. "Those guys don't come along, that's why nobody's done what he's done."

The cheating scandal, which stemmed from an online exam, has already resulted in an athletic department academic adviser being forced out along with a graduate student tutor. It mushroomed this month with the school's suspension of players after an investigation by the school.

Bowden also expressed confidence in his interview with Arute that the NCAA will accept the self-imposed penalties handed the players by university officials, adding that "the NCAA and our people are working hand-in-hand."

Bowden told Arute he does not expect to have any victories taken away but said that if it happens, it happens. He quipped that he has 22 victories from his initial coaching job that have never been counted, anyway, and that he would play that hand if needed to maintain his position atop the coaching ranks, two ahead of Paterno.

The way Bowden has handled the latest crisis has impressed Fisher.

"He turns every adverse situation into opportunity for someone else," Fisher said. "What else can you do?"

"You've have to figure out how to succeed with it and that's the way he goes about it," Fisher said.

Bowden claims the coaches knew little or nothing about the issue until late summer when two players were suspended for acknowledging their roles.

Bowden supplied a timeline to Arute as to his knowledge, initially thinking that the investigation revealed involvement of just two of his players back in August; those two players were suspended for the first four game of the season.

He stated again and again that he was shocked when he learned further the extent. He empathizes with the players he had to suspend.

"It was hard to tell them. You couldn't hurt them anymore," Bowden told Arute.

Bowden also stated to Arute that if he learns he and FSU must go much further and dismiss the players, he would fight that because, "I am anti-throwing boys back on the street."

His legacy, he said, is for others to determine.

"I don't even worry about that," he said. "As long as I'm honest and do the best I can do, I can't worry about that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE