President: Bowden's job safe for now

Updated: October 8, 2009, 10:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State president T.K. Wetherell said Wednesday that football coach Bobby Bowden's job is safe for now.

In a release Wednesday from the university, Wetherell said the football coaching situation will be re-evaluated at the end of the season. Wetherell reiterated that offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher will be the next head coach when Bowden leaves and that the university will begin work with Fisher on an agreement to that end.

"FSU does not make coaching changes in the middle of the season," Wetherell said. "What message would it send to anyone -- friend or foe -- to do that at this time?"

Although many boosters and fans have become disgruntled with the slide of the program, Wetherell made it clear he is sticking by the 79-year-old Bowden. The Seminoles (2-3, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) are off to their slowest start since Bowden's first year at the helm in 1976.

"His character and commitment to excellence has always been the signature of his career," said Wetherell, a receiver at Florida State when Bowden was an assistant at the school in the mid-1960s.

"Two years ago coach Bowden and I, and others, stood together and announced that we were beginning a period of transition for the football program," Wetherell said. "That plan is in place and will produce results, given the opportunity and support."

Wetherell's statement, however, left the door open for Bowden to retire at the end of the season.

"Any coach can choose to retire at any time," Wetherell said. "However, it is the athletics director's responsibility to determine which coaches are hired and which contracts are extended."

Speaking on the ACC's teleconference Wednesday, Bowden said he appreciated the president's support.

"I think he's wise and I'm very thankful," Bowden said. "Our players, we tell them don't pay any attention to that stuff, just concentrate on your next opponent, and I'm sure that's what they'll do."

Florida State hosts No. 22 Georgia Tech (4-1) on Saturday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

Bowden said he would let his boss know when the season is over if he wants to return for the 2010 season, the last year on his contract.

"If I was 40 years old I'd be shakin' in my boots," Bowden said, "but I'm 79. I've been through it. Most of my coaching is behind me. It don't bother me that much. The only thing I worry about or am concerned about is it a distraction for my team? And it isn't. I tell them what to listen to, what not to."

Bowden If I was 40 years old I'd be shakin' in my boots, but I'm 79. I've been through it. Most of my coaching is behind me. The only thing I worry about or am concerned about is it a distraction for my team?

-- Bobby Bowden, on his future as football coach at Florida State

Bowden's future at the school came under scrutiny this week when the chairman of the university's trustees, Jim Smith, said the coach who once made the Seminoles a national powerhouse should leave after this season and that the Bowden-Fisher arrangement is not working.

The coach's 384 coaching victories are second all-time only to Penn State's Joe Paterno among major college coaches. Bowden has repeatedly indicated he plans to coach through the 2010 season. Fisher's present contract calls for the school to pay him $5 million if he is not the head coach by January of 2011.

Bowden briefly met with Wetherell on Monday, a person close to the coach told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach, but the two did not discuss Bowden leaving after this season.

One of their discussion points was Smith's remarks that a coaching change needed to be made.

"I don't think they're going to make him quit and I don't think he wants to," a person close to Bowden told Schlabach. "If the season ends on a down [note], I think he'll do exactly what he's always said he'll do -- he'll leave on his own terms. He's going to retire soon, but nobody wants to make it an ugly departure."

According to the source, Bowden remains convinced the Seminoles can turn their season around.

"He told TK, 'Don't you quit. We have a season to save. We have some games to win,' " the person close to Bowden said.

One person who is close to Bowden told ESPN's Joe Schad: "This has the feel of a painful corporate squeezeout. I think they're going to take Bobby's authority away to the point where it's nearly impossible for him to come back next season." Another Florida State trustee, Leslie Pantin, does not agree with Smith's statements and issued a statement of his own to ESPN on Wednesday.

"I think we should strengthen Jimbo Fisher's position as the next head coach," Pantin said. "However, I do believe we should honor FSU's agreement with Coach [Bobby] Bowden through the end of the 2010 season."

It's just a sad time. I guess that people want Bobby to step down gracefully, and I want what's best for Florida State University. I'm just really saddened by where we are . . . It's bad . . . Something is amiss, and I'm not sure what it is. But we can't keep going in the direction it's going."

-- Former Florida State wide receiver Ron Sellers

Fisher, Bowden's offensive coordinator, was designated the head coach-in-waiting in 2007. If he does not succeed Bowden at the end of the 2010 season, Florida State -- under the terms of its agreement with Fisher -- would have to pay him $5 million. FSU has begun working on the parameters of a five-year deal with Fisher, Smith told the Tallahassee Democrat recently.

"It's all about them not winning enough games. Everybody thought they'd be over the hump and playing better. But nobody has said, 'Bobby, it's over at the end of the season.' He has told them, 'I'll talk about it at the end of the year,' " the person close to Bowden told Schlabach.

Anxiety in Seminole Nation has reached a crescendo recently.

"It's just really sad because he has propelled FSU into a national power and we just haven't been there for really eight years now," Ron Sellers, a record-setting wide receiver from 1966 to '68, told Schlabach. "I really don't know what's compounding the problem.

"It's just a sad time. I guess that people want Bobby to step down gracefully, and I want what's best for Florida State University. I'm just really saddened by where we are. I'm hurting as much as all the Seminole Nation. It's bad. The last two Saturdays have been bad. Something is amiss, and I'm not sure what it is. But we can't keep going in the direction it's going."

Sellers, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988, still attends FSU football games regularly. He was at the Seminoles' 19-9 victory over FCS opponent Jacksonville (Ala.) State on Sept. 12, when FSU had to score two touchdowns in the final 35 seconds to avoid the worst loss in Bowden's tenure.

"I saw too many dropped passes, too many fumbles, too many guys dropping punts and too many people missing tackles," Sellers said. "We're just a team in disarray."

Redshirt junior defensive back Ochuko Jenije told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich that the team is trying to put its attention into preparation for the Tech game.

"[The coaching situation] hasn't really been a distraction," Jenije said. "We know how things are in the college football world. It hasn't really been a distraction. We just let them do their talking. We're just going to focus on getting better and getting the man some wins."

Mark Schlabach and Heather Dinich cover college football for ESPN.com. ESPN's Joe Schad contributed to this report.

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