There's no need to complain about its demise. There is nothing you can do about it, nor anything that says we won't rise again. We are, after all, located in one of the richest recruiting areas available. We've built, and continue to build incredible facilities. Our boosters are in the process of collecting 70 million dollars in endowment pledges.
So, why all the gloom and doom, you ask? It has little to do with recent records and more to do with the merciless march of time. This program, regardless of our disinclination to admit it, is about to lose its lynch pin. Whether the reign of Bobby Bowden has three, five, or seven years remaining, it is surely closer to its end than even its mid-term.
A little over 25 years ago, an up and coming, but hardly recognizable figure stepped onto the campus of Florida State University. What he found glistening in the Big Bend humidity was an apathetic student body, a rickety stadium, and an uneasy administration. At the end of his first day at work, the new coach had to be thinking: "Dadgummit. If I can turn this into a winner, Tuscaloosa can't be far away."
Not only did he build a winner, he built a juggernaut. Bowden built a program that morphed from a frequent homecoming guest, to an unwelcome menace.
He took his upstart troops onto the hollowed grounds of traditional giants and slew them, before the eyes of their stunned alumni.
How Bobby Bowden stayed at Florida State University for twenty-five plus years is a study in French kissing the Blarney Stone. He could have left to take over LSU, but did not. He would have left to take over his beloved BAMA, but their administration proved unworthy of the choice.
Time and time, again, colleges looking to replace a fallen coach, heard the faint rumblings emanating from Tallahassee, but did not act. Then, the rumblings became a roar.
It's hard to tell when it was sealed that Bobby Bowden would stay in Tallahassee. I've heard him say it was after the plane ride back from his interview with Alabama. Maybe it was earlier, maybe later, but whenever it was, I can't help but wonder the fate of our program had he left in the late seventies/early eighties.
They say no man is bigger than the program, but I wonder how true that is at Florida State. Bear Bryant proved to be at least as large as the storied BAMA program. Today, when people think of Alabama, Bryant's name is rarely far from the conversation. Even this coaching great, however, is now observed in the rear view mirror of the little man from Birmingham. When people think of Florida State, they think of Robert Clecker Bowden and they probably will for some time after he leaves.
I'm not predicting it'll happen after this year, or even the year after, but it will happen sooner than most of us want to believe. And, when it does, what happens to this program? Certainly, the previously mentioned tangible assets this university harbors could draw any coach it wants. Couldn't it?
There's little reason to rehash the hiring process the University of Florida recently endured. It is more than reasonable to think their head coaching position is one of the most attractive in college football. Yet, when it came time to fill the position, two top-flight coaches with strong ties to the university balked.
There looms, of course, the "following the legend" stigma. College football history is littered with the names of promising head coaches, who succeeded a coaching icon.
Ray Perkins followed Bear Bryant
Gary Gibbs followed Barry Switzer
Ray Goff followed Vince Dooley
Earle Bruce followed Woody Hayes
That's not to say all the new guys weren't good coaches. They just weren't Bear, or Barry, or Vince, or Woody. Rest assured, no one will be Bobby, either.
Earle Bruce had eight seasons at Ohio State with at least nine wins. His overall record as a head coach is 160 and 90 (A .630 winning percentage). He turned around such down and out programs as Colorado State, and Iowa State. He's in the College Football Hall of Fame. Yet ask an Ohio State grad for their thoughts on him and you're likely to hear him referred to as "Nine and Three Earle."
Ray Perkins averaged eight wins per season in the four years after Bear Bryant retired. Eight wins are enough to get your coaching shorts bronzed at a lot of colleges. At Alabama, it was like swimming half way across the river. Two wins, or eight, you still didn't "get it done."
You see the problem is not so much how good the next coach is; it's that the bar is set so high; it's nearly impossible to reach. What does the new guy have to do to be embraced by spoiled Seminole fans? Win three national titles? How many nine-win seasons will FSU fans "suffer?" Not eight. I guarantee you that.
There are, of course anomalies. Of the five Miami coaches from the Howard to Larry thread, only Butch Davis failed to win a national championship; mainly because he lacked patience. Say what you want about their "practices", that is an amazing feat, which we will be lucky to accomplish half of in the post Bowden era.
Gary Moeller replaced Bo Schembechler and averaged almost nine wins per season (8.8 to be exact); yet I'm pretty sure few outside the Ann Arbor Police Department "really" remember him.
If I had to guess, I'd say our immediate success rate will fall somewhere between Ray Goff and Earle Bruce. Think of what a new coach has to overcome. Recruits have long stated that playing for coach Bowden was a factor in what drew them to FSU. How many "mommas" did he sway? It's hard to imagine Dave Hart finding a better recruiter.
Of course, there are some within the fan-hood who will tell you Bowden's game-day "shortcomings" are what led to his underachieving three hundred twenty-seven wins. We can only hope there is a coach out there who really knows how to get the most out of his talent.
There seems to be a universal acceptance by most I've talked to outside the program that Florida State will have a drop off when Bowden leaves. The program as a whole will probably suffer through a collective nausea when Bowden no longer paces the sidelines. Imagine peering onto Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium and not seeing those groovy shades, that chic hat and those perpetual jowls smacking bubble gum. That alone will be a tremendous let down.
On the other hand, what if Dave Hart pulls a rabbit out of his hat and snags a young gun who comes in, seizes control, and raises the program back to its pre-2001 levels? This becomes problematic in that the NFL will heavily woo any coach with that level of success. Don't believe me? Think of how many NFL teams Ty Willingham will have on his doorstep, if his current rate of success continues. Within five years, Willingham will probably have to take out a restraining order against a clearly frustrated Dan Snyder. Folks, there aren't many Bobby Bowdens or Joe Paternos out there anymore. Regardless of whose choice it is, we probably won't see many new coaches stay at any school for more than ten years. You see, Bowden proved that if it can happen at FSU, pre 1976, it could happen anywhere, and fast.
If Bowden's heir has the kind of success we all hope he can, but doesn't stay, where does that leave the program? Do you have enough confidence in Hart to duplicate the feat? That's not a swipe at Hart. It's not likely anyone can identify two consecutive available coaches of that caliber. It is this and all the aforementioned factors, which lead me to understand those who say we may have reached the zenith of our program.
The previous fifteen years you just witnessed were as glorious as any other reign. Yet, like any other reign, it too must end. And, that end is nigh.
I don't write this to bring anyone down. I write it for perspective. Understand you are watching the end of a career you will tell your grand kids about. Some day, as your own sunset approaches, you'll sit in the stands with your child's child, and you'll remember times they can not comprehend.
"I was here when we were great. I saw Bobby Bowden walk these sidelines."