by Todd Helmick
October 25, 2006
The recent defeats suffered by the Florida
State football nation and their current last place residence
in the ACC Atlantic Division have caused anxiety for
much of the FSU faithful. Just look around the web or
through the daily newspapers lately and you’ll
be sure to find how some form of a story has hit the
headlines concerning the disenchantment of head coach
Bobby Bowden. Some prominent boosters have gone so far
as to call for the resignation of the NCAA Division
I-A’s winningest football coach. Well, I am alum
and played for Coach Bowden when the team’s great
run got started in 1987, and I’m here to set a
few things straight.
Calling for Bobby Bowden to resign or
be forced out is tantamount to removing Vince Lombardi’s
face from the NFL Hall of Fame. No way, no how, not
even an option.
Unfortunately, many in the media misstepped
this week when they reported that a large majority of
Nole boosters have asked for Bobby Bowden to step down,
portraying this train of thought as being the overall
sentiment. They got that wrong. Sure, some have said
as much, but most have positive ideas for change that
don’t include the Big Guy’s head on a platter.
Bobby Bowden is the face of Florida
State football. Hopefully he can continue to “manage”
this team for another 20 years, god willing. But let’s
be clear in distinguishing the difference…manage
vs. coach. Most already know Bobby doesn’t make
the calls on offense, defense, special teams, play selection,
schemes, or QB progression…he has put assistants
in place to call the chess match on Saturdays.
Clearly, scrutinizing the winning of
football games by making sound football decisions as
opposed to judging a person’s character is apples
and oranges. Moreover, when media members – as
well as boosters and fans - criticize coaching decisions,
it shouldn’t be a knock on that person as a human
being. I have had Bobby and all his sons on my radio
shows, and I have written stories that involved talking
to members of the Bowden family. As anyone would say
that has had the unique chance to talk with Bobby, Terry,
Tommy, Jeff and the rest, these are some of the best
human beings I have ever encountered. The world is a
better place with them in it.
With that said, allow this humble advice
to be given by a former player: To win more games, FSU
has to change what it’s doing offensively, period.
That doesn’t equate to letting Bobby go. It has
more to do with his son Jeff, who is the offensive coordinator,
as well as QB coach Daryl Dickey and his way of grooming
a signal caller. Both bring iffy résumés
(listing the likes of Salem College (Jeff) and Presbyterian
College (Daryl)), and while not too shabby, they fall
way short in quality experience to the many better résumés
Bobby had on his hiring table when ex-offensive coordinator
Mark Richt left for Georgia.
Calling the FSU contingent spoiled fans
carries some weight. Understanding their issues would
be more noteworthy.
Let’s talk X’s and O’s - Football
101. Last Saturday, FSU coaches made the call and gave
QB Drew Weatherford the option of throwing a three-yard
down-and-out pass to run out 30 seconds on the first-half
clock with the Noles deep in their own territory. The
results of this call? Interception, touchdown, and a
21-10 trailing score at the break. Hey, you can even
go to ESPN.com and vote for this past week’s (Oct.
21) Pontiac Game Changing Performance. One of the choices
is this 36-yard interception return for a touchdown
by Boston College’s DeJuan Tribble. OK, so Drew
made a bad decision and a worse throw. But, to quote
Jeff from a recent interview with Rivals.com website
Warchant.com on his reaction to this play after the
game, “It was a safe call”. Taking a knee
or running the ball via a handoff is a safe call. Throwing
the ball deep is even acceptable. But opening the door
for what ultimately occurred leaves one scratching their
head in disbelief.
Burning early time outs for failing
to get the right play called has now become par for
the FSU course week in, year out. This is also about
running play-action on 3rd-and-16, and about a running
game based on a two second delay before moving up field.
This is about a pitch to your slowest back on fourth-and-short.
This is about one-receiver sets telegraphing an impending
running play. This is about not being able to run the
ball even when the opposing defense has their dime package
in. This is about the staple of the downfield passing
game being a deep Hail Mary.
QB Drew Weatherford is still doing the
same things wrong today that he did wrong in his freshman
season, much like how former-QB Chris Rix looked marginal
(at best) for three straight years after his record
setting first season. Rix arguably never improved. Drew
Weatherford is Chris Rix right now. Like Rix, Weatherford
seems undecided in whether to tuck the ball and run,
when to look for the short dump pass to the RB, or when
to take the sack. Notice the pattern? Simply stated,
the coaches are confused, thus the players are confused.
Longtime FSU defensive ends coach Jim
Gladden, on the staff for 27 years (one year longer
than Bobby Bowden), was an associate head coach when
he evaluated the performance of offensive coordinator
Jeff Bowden in an effort to solve any problems with
the university’s nepotism policy.
But what Gladden told me in a conversation
during the summer of 2003 was that the FSU program genuinely
changed that sad day Devaughn Darling passed away at
on off-season workout. Jim claims you could just see
the look on the other player’s faces, as if to
say, “We trusted you as coaches and now look what
happened.” While most of the players from that
era have moved on, the looks of doubt on player’s
faces (with respect to the direction this offense is
headed) seem to have carried over.
The head man’s current job is
to teach his student-athletes important lessons about
seeing the good in life. More importantly, it is to
get the recruits (and their parents) to sign on the
dotted line come Signing Day. By a longshot, he has
done as much better than anyone over a long measurement
of time. Fire him? Might as well ask Joe Paterno to
Remarkably, the two winningest coaches
in Division I-A history are meeting similar difficulties
- a combined 80 plus years of coaching soon fades into
the heavens above when they go.
line? Bring in a new offense coaching staff, period.
Keep Jeff as a receivers coach (much like Joe Paterno’s
son Jay and OC Fran Ganter were reassigned a few years
back after the Nittany Lions struggled offensively).
Learn from other’s mistakes or be doomed to repeat
history. That has to start with Bobby doing what Joe
Pa eventually had to do - recognize that there is a
problem at the play-calling helm.
As Albert Einstein once said, "Insanity
is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting
different results." Well, it doesn’t take
an Einstein to realize that this FSU offense, with all
of its four- and five-star caliber recruits, is still
in a downward spiral after six seasons under this regime.
Calling for the resignation of Bobby
Bowden – that is also insanity. Calling for a
new set of proven offensive assistants – that
is much more logical. Unfortunately, most feel such
change has no real chance of occurring due to Bobby’s
loyalty and family ties. Unfortunately, we take this
obvious bad with the proven good that Bobby Bowden has
delivered over his tenure - success can be a double-edged
sword. Even though the agony of watching this offense
stumble is comparable to a drawn-out root canal, long
live the king! Oh, such a painful line to walk.
Bobby’s undoing will be his own if this inevitable
change doesn’t come sooner rather than later.
But it is his bed, and he has earned the right to sleep
in it, though we FSU fans and former students sleep
in it as well. Questioning authority is not a negative
action when due respect is paid.