Bowden will coach bowl game

Updated: December 1, 2009, 9:13 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State coach Bobby Bowden will end his 44-year coaching career after the Seminoles' bowl game this winter.

Bowden will retire as the second-winningest coach in major college football behind Penn State's Joe Paterno. The 80-year-old Bowden has won 388 games in his career at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State, where he spent the last 34 seasons.

I'm still going to respect the man for what he's done. He turned this program around. I'm just disappointed at the people who tried to knock him down. He's still Bobby Bowden.

-- Florida State linebacker Dekoda Watson

"Nothing lasts forever, does it? But I've had some wonderful years here at Florida State, you know it," Bowden said in a satellite feed interview provided by the school. "Hadn't done as good lately as I wish I could have, but I've had wonderful years, no regrets."

Bowden won two national titles with Florida State, in 1993 and 1999. Among his top achievements was a string of 14 straight seasons, ending in 2000, where the Seminoles won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top five of the AP poll.

Florida State was 152-19-1, an .864 winning percentage, during that span.

"He set records of achievement on the field that will probably never be equaled," university president T.K. Wetherell said. "Bobby Bowden in many ways became the face of Florida State. It was his sterling personality and character that personified this university."

Bowden's successor already was determined in 2007, when it was announced after the season that offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher would become coach when Bowden decided to leave.

"I talked to Jimbo yesterday and told him what I was going to do, you know?" Bowden said. "And wish him luck and I'll do anything I can to help him and Florida State. I'll just be pulling so hard for Florida State, especially these boys next year."

Bowden, who met with Wetherell and other school officials Monday and again Tuesday morning, met with his players in the afternoon, after which he announced his retirement.

"You know something like this is going to happen. If it didn't happen now it would be happening this time next year, but it's happening now," Bowden said. "As long as my family is happy, that's the main thing. So I'll go out and make a lot of talks now and tell everybody how good I was."

During a hastily called news conference, quarterback Christian Ponder and linebacker Dekoda Watson addressed a few dozen media members. Wetherell and athletic director Randy Spetman did not address the media.

"A lot of guys went into [the meeting] expecting it," Ponder said. "A lot of guys saw what was in the newspaper. A lot of guys were saddened by it."

Ponder said Bowden didn't spend much time talking about what he was going to do.

"He said this was going to be his last game and being Bobby Bowden, he quickly turned it," Ponder said. "He said we were going to work hard this week and go win. He was a little bit [emotional], but not too much. He showed a little bit, but not too much. A few other people got emotional, but he's Bobby Bowden. He's a strong-willed person."

Added Watson: "I'm still going to respect the man for what he's done. He turned this program around. I'm just disappointed at the people who tried to knock him down. He's still Bobby Bowden."

[+] EnlargeT.K. Wetherell
AP Photo/Phil CoaleFlorida State president T.K. Wetherell, who met with Bobby Bowden the past two days, once played under Bowden, then an assistant coach.

Bowden wants his last bowl game to be in Florida, and efforts are under way to try to attain a berth in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, or the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, a school official told ESPN.com.

The official also said the school was working with the ACC to try to have the Seminoles (6-6, 4-4 ACC Atlantic) face West Virginia, where Bowden was offensive coordinator from 1966 to 1969, and head coach from 1970 to 1975.

"You can't have a successful program without players and we have been blessed to have young men who are winners both on and off the field," Bowden said in his statement. "I want to thank them and their families for committing 4-5 years of their lives to me and to FSU."

Bowden met with Wetherell and other school officials at his Tallahassee home Tuesday morning, his second meeting with them in two days -- "very amiable," Bowden said.

He then returned to his office at Doak Campbell Stadium, where his attorneys were finalizing details of his buyout agreement, the school official said.

Under the terms of his one-year rollover contract, Bowden will receive at least $1 million as a settlement.

University officials are hoping Bowden will return next season as a fundraising ambassador, but he has not indicated whether he'll agree to such an arrangement.

Sources told ESPN.com Fisher has agreed to contract terms to replace Bowden after this season. The school's booster organization would have owed Fisher $5 million if he didn't replace Bowden by January 2011.

The winningest coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history, Bowden's teams put together one of the most dominant runs in college football history between 1987 and 2000, with 14 consecutive finishes in the nation's top five and a pair of national titles.

In 1993, despite a late-season slip at Notre Dame, Florida State won its first national title after just missing out in 1987, 1988, 1991 and 1992 -- several seasons because of losses to nemesis Miami, which won three national titles during that span.

Quarterback Charlie Ward guided the Seminoles to a 12-1 record and a title-clinching win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl in 1993. The next national crown came six years later, with Chris Weinke and All-American Peter Warrick leading the Seminoles to a perfect 12-0 record, capped by a win over Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

"The first championship was more of a relief," Bowden said. "I think I was able to enjoy the second one a little more."

Bowden's lone perfect season in 1999 made history as the Seminoles became the first team to go wire-to-wire in The Associated Press poll ranked No. 1 from the preseason to finish.

Bowden relished the spotlight and his "aw-shucks" approach was well received everywhere he went. It was during the rare losses when Bowden was at his best, relying on his favorite phrase "Dadgumit" when discussing all those wide-right and wide-left field goals against Miami in the late 1980s and early 1990s that knocked so many of his teams out of national title contention.

Since winning their 12th ACC championship in 2005, the Seminoles have been 16-16 the past four seasons against league opponents.

Bowden also has been entangled in NCAA investigations. The school was hit with five years' probation for a 1993 incident when several of his players were given free shoes and sporting goods from a local store. That led to former Florida coach Steve Spurrier calling Florida State "Free Shoes University."

Bowden entered this season faced with the possible loss of 14 of his wins as part of sanctions from the NCAA on an academic cheating scandal that involved two dozen football players. The school is appealing.

The folksy, quotable and well-liked Bowden is a football lifer, who modeled his career after his idol, Paul "Bear" Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach who died shortly after he retired in 1982.

"After you retire, there's only one big event left," Bowden has said over the years. "And I ain't ready for that."

Information from ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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