Standard of Excellence

Former Florida State standouts <b>Javon Walker</b> and <b>Jamal Reynolds,</b> now teammates with the Green Bay Packers, scanned the renovated Seminole athletic center and smiled. While the landscape near Stadium Drive seems to change daily, one constant remains: FSU coach Bobby Bowden, of course.

"I am glad it's going to happen for coach Bowden. He's a great guy to play for and I am glad he has reached that goal," said Reynolds, a Lombardi Award winner and consensus All-American three years ago.

Bowden, who turns 74 next month and has been at the FSU helm since 1976, could become the all-time winningest coach in Division I history on Saturday as the Seminoles tangle with improved Wake Forest.

While such an achievement merits a hearty celebration, it has created little fanfare. But that has been by design from Bowden, who tied good friend Joe Paterno with 338 career victories each last Saturday at Virginia.

For several reasons Bowden has been reluctant to discuss the subject of passing Paterno. He has known Paterno since 1962, and the two share a mutual respect.

While FSU is off to a fast start, the Nittany Lions (2-5), who play at No. 16 Iowa on Saturday, are staring at their worst season in Paterno's 37-year tenure at Penn State. The bickering is gaining in volume, as several former Penn State players this week blamed Paterno for hanging around too long.

That's not the case at FSU.

"I am happy to see all he has accomplished in his years of coaching," Walker said of Bowden.

"He's considered one of the top (coaches) and I am glad to see him accomplish what he wanted to do. They do a great job of bringing in athletes who can perform and do what they ask them to do and get to share in these victories with him."

Paterno seemingly had a safe advantage over Bowden -- 36 games in 1986 after the Nittany Lions won their last national title. Bowden was 25 wins behind when the teams met four years later in the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl.

However, the gap rapidly closed, aided by Penn State's recent decline. The Nittany Lions have lost three games in a row and five of six. They are just 22-25 since winning their first nine games of the 1999 season.

Still, Paterno is adamant about continuing. And he hasn't lost his sense of humor either.

This week, Paterno jokingly said he "needed to put a few more needles in that (voodoo) doll," in reference to Bowden. "I admire Bobby," Paterno said. "He is honest. I think he is a great football coach. He has been a credit to the game. What you see of Bobby Bowden, you get, and I admire him very much."

Closing in on -- and poised to pass -- one of his closest friends in the coaching fraternity has been admittedly awkward for Bowden. An achievement worth shouting about has been greeted with whispers.

"We take our cue from coach," said Rob Wilson, FSU's assistant athletic director for media and public relations.

"He doesn't want a big deal made about it, and he's very sincere about that, so we have to honor his wishes. Still, there's a lot of us who. … I am sure people will be sitting in the stands Saturday wondering if Penn State loses and we win, why aren't we doing this huge blowout. But there's the potential for it to see-saw awhile.

Still, a smiling Wilson knows the drama being played out in Tally is unique and special.

"Every record is always broken but this is one that you really do shake your head and say, ‘I don't know.' Just because of the way college football is and the pressure that's on coaches now. They are not going to let them hang around if they have three off years, then come back and win. For those of us who have been around awhile, I hope everyone is kind of pinching themselves and saying, ‘Geez, look what I get to watch.'"

FSU running backs coach Billy Sexton is one of those who has been around awhile. Twenty-seven years at FSU, in fact.

While former players such as Reynolds and Walker visit FSU from time to time -- the pair attended Thursday's practice and chatted with TheTerritory about Bowden, the 'Noles and the nearly-completed athletic center -- Sexton has witnessed the program's incredible rise to a national power under his boss.

"It's very exciting -- absolutely," Sexton said.

"There have been a lot of coaches who have come down the pike -- it's phenomenal. He's the same now, to me, that he was 27 years ago. He just really loves what he does. It's as simple as that."


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