Commentary

Heat intensifies after Florida State's loss

Updated: October 11, 2009, 6:44 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Bobby Bowden's week started with the chairman of Florida State's Board of Trustees calling for a coaching change.

Bowden's week ended the same way it has each of the last three Saturdays: with his Seminoles losing another game. FSU's third loss in a row will only fuel debate about whether one of college football's greatest coaches should step down after his 34th season at the school.

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
AP Photo/Steve Cannon Florida State started the game with a show of solidarity with Bobby Bowden.

Florida State's defense never figured out how to stop No. 22 Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option offense in a 49-44 loss at Doak Campbell Stadium. The Yellow Jackets had a whopping 401 rushing yards. Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns and added a scoring pass, helping the Yellow Jackets pull away in the second half.

Florida State lost to an opponent from a BCS conference for the fourth straight time and fell to 2-4, 0-3 in ACC play. It is the Seminoles' worst start since going 2-4 in 1976, which was Bowden's first season in Tallahassee. His first season was also the only losing campaign in his illustrious FSU career.

"I think the critics will keep criticizing," Bowden said. "The good folks won't."

Bowden, 79, can silence his critics by simply walking away at the end of the season, which some suggest he should have done a long time ago.

During an interview with ESPN on Friday, Bowden said he'd evaluate his program at the end of the season and decide whether his players were playing as hard as they could -- and if the Seminoles were winning as many games as they should.

The Seminoles are playing hard, but they're rarely winning anymore.

After winning 10 games or more in 14 straight seasons from 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles have accomplished the feat only once since 2001. They won't do it this season, and will likely have problems beating any of their remaining six opponents because of the way they're playing defense.

"To me, [our goal] is probably to win the rest of our games," Bowden said. "That wouldn't satisfy everybody, but it's all I can do."

Bowden realizes the end of his iconic career may be near. FSU president T.K. Wetherell, who played receiver at the school when Bowden was an assistant there in the 1960s, said in a statement released earlier this week that a coaching change won't be made during the season. But Wetherell, who has been one of Bowden's most loyal supporters, has already announced his own retirement.

And Wetherell all but deferred the decision to Bowden and FSU athletics director Randy Spetman, saying a coach can retire and the school's athletics director decides whether to renew a coach's contract.

Bowden has a one-year contract that expires after this season. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has already been named Bowden's successor, and the school would owe him $5 million if Fisher isn't hired as head coach by January 2011.

"If you can't save this season, I'd have a decision to make," Bowden said Friday. "I know that."

The decision shouldn't be a difficult one for Bowden, but it should be his alone. He's accomplished too much at Florida State to be pushed out the door, and no one at FSU wants the marriage to end badly. He seems to have the support of the majority of Seminoles fans. A plan to wear black shirts in protest of Bowden never got legs before Saturday's game, and fans cheered wildly when Bowden was introduced.

Even Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an FSU graduate, released a statement Saturday wishing Bowden luck against the Yellow Jackets.

"You can't believe the support I've gotten this week," Bowden said. "You can't believe who it came from. I can't worry about critics. Not in this business."

[+] EnlargeJosh Nesbitt
AP Photo/Phil Coale Georgia Tech QB Josh Nesbitt torched the Noles' defense.

But, as Smith said earlier in the week, enough is probably enough. There's really no reason for Bowden to continue coaching. His 384 career victories are four behind Penn State's Joe Paterno for most victories by a major college football coach. But unless the NCAA reverses its earlier decision to force FSU to vacate victories in which it used ineligible players during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Bowden will lose 14 wins from his record, all but ending his race against Paterno.

"I was really having fun with that," Bowden said. "I was enjoying that. It was fun being in the battle. Now, I don't know what the NCAA is going to do. Their plans are to erase that battle. Joe's ahead anyway, but it's nice to be in good company."

Once the architect of one of college football's greatest dynasties, Bowden is now joining the company of coaches who stayed on the sideline too long.

Although Bowden and Fisher have both said FSU's staff chemistry is good, something is inherently wrong with the Seminoles. Fisher has improved the FSU offense, which foundered when Bowden's son, Jeff, was in charge.

Junior Christian Ponder is Florida State's best quarterback since the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, Chris Weinke. Ponder did all he could to beat the Yellow Jackets, completing 26 of 36 passes for a career-high 359 yards with five touchdowns. FSU has talented receivers and running backs and a capable offensive line.

But FSU's defense is a mess, which is causing problems within the coaching staff. Mickey Andrews, Bowden's longtime defensive coordinator, is leaning toward retiring after the end of the season. Bowden wants former NC State coach Chuck Amato promoted to defensive coordinator if Andrews retires, but Fisher would like to have his own coordinator in place when he takes over. Earlier this week, Amato denied speculation that he and Fisher had to be separated on a team flight to Boston College.

After FSU's defensive performance against Georgia Tech, Andrews is sure to join Bowden on the hot seat.

"I wish it wouldn't," Bowden said. "It should probably all go on the head coach, but it doesn't work that way. I wish it wouldn't because Mickey takes it more personally than anyone else. It will hurt him."

Sadly, it's probably time for Bowden to stop hurting his legacy -- and the Seminoles.

"I'm not scared of the future," Bowden said Friday. "I'm not scared of what happened in the past. When our time comes, it will come. Now, I'd love to go out here as a winner, but that might not happen. I'll survive somehow."

Whenever Bowden decides to walk away, college football will have a much more difficult time surviving without him.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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