Up Close With Bobby

FSU coach Bobby Bowden chatted with the media Sunday afternoon. And it shouldn't come as a surprise that Bowden once again has concerns about his quarterback. Who will start against Florida? A.D.? Chris? "I talked to the staff this morning -- it's even Stephen, and we'll decide at the end of the week who will start, whereas a week ago, A.D. was your starting quarterback and Chris was second," Bowden said.

Can you give us your thoughts on what happened yesterday?

"Watching the film this morning, we felt like we had to win or tie the kicking game to beat them. They have been super all year in their kicking. We've blocked some kicks, but they've blocked more than we have. Right off the bat, we fumble the first punt we make, for no reason. So right off the bat you get behind. They won the kicking game. Defensively, we did a good job of keeping them out of the end zone, but we didn't do a good job of taking the ball away from them. They had the ball 40 minutes or something like that. Offensively, we just simply didn't make the plays that we had a chance to make. We had a chance to catch touchdown passes. We had a chance to throw touchdown passes. We had a chance to throw first-down passes. We couldn't do it. Their defense was set to stop our run, just like ours was set to stop their run. Even with that, you've got a ballgame where you're only behind three points for three and a half quarters."

You mentioned yesterday that you would take a look at the quarterback position.

"We'll definitely do that. That will be up for grabs again. We'll work both quarterbacks equally. I talked to the offensive staff this morning. We will work both quarterbacks equally with the first unit, then decide at the end of the week who will start."

Besides the quarterback position, what were the other problems on offense.

"We had chances to make plays to win the game. We missed passes with people open -- not all day long, but you don't need but one or two of them to win the game. Their plans were to stop our running game, just like our plan is to stop their running game. They shut it down pretty good. Again, we had chances to make plays. The game was close enough that one big play could have put you ahead, and we didn't make it."

Does this sort of close to the conference season make the ACC title a little bittersweet?

"I think that's the way you would describe it. After you lose that ballgame, you're in a really negative feeling. Then to find out that you win the conference doesn't make you feel much better. I'm glad we won it, but it sure doesn't make you feel good after losing that game."

Is your rivalry with Florida any different with Steve Spurrier gone?

"I think there's a different air about it. There's no less intensity in the rivalry. The rivalry is still the same. Nothing's changed, but his personality is gone. He had a very strong personality."

Is that personality something that you'll miss during the week of preparation?

"Not necessarily. It added a little spark to it, but to me, I look at Florida and it looks like they're playing about as good as they always have."

What went into your decision initially to bench Chris? How much of a factor was all the talk by the players, especially on defense, after the Notre Dame game?

"That didn't go into my thinking at all. I would not make a decision based on team popularity or the team's feelings, unless I thought it was correct. But when I saw the film -- I watched the game, saw the kid come in and move us in there for two touchdowns in the second half, when we were unable to do it the previous two quarters. I felt like we needed a change. The other coaches all felt the same way. It's not like the kids -- I heard about their feelings, but I would never let the kids dictate to me what kind of decisions need to be made."

Has your opinion of A.D. changed any over the course of three games?

"I felt like he was making progress, where all he needed was experience, experience, experience -- just like Chris Rix needed experience. I felt like he was gaining it, and I felt like he wasn't losing games for us. This last week, he probably took a step backward."

How similar is this situation to the situation before last season's Maryland game, when you considered opening up the job to competition?

"Again, it's nearly the opposite of what you saw in the Notre Dame game. You had Chris Rix come in -- actually, we tried to get him in the game earlier, but we couldn't get the ball away from them. When we decided to put him in there, it might have been eight minutes to go, something like that. Maybe five and a half, something like that. When we got the ball, it was down to two and a half. The way he moved the football team in the brief time he was there, is kind of like A.D. moving it against Notre Dame in the brief time he was there. As you evaluate the ballgame, it makes you think, 'Hey, we better let these kids fight this thing out another week, then decide if we need to make a change.'"

Do you think Florida remains FSU's biggest rival?

"I think so, to the people. For the boosters, the fans -- the average, yes. If you took all people that are Florida State people and voted, I think a majority of them would be to win the Florida game. There'd be a heavy percentage for the Miami ballgame. But I think Florida probably supercedes all of it."

How much does Chris' big-game experience provide him with an edge? He's played Miami twice, and at Florida.

"Let me just say that right now -- that's hard to answer right there. All I would say right now is dead even. Ain't no sense in me telling you who we're going to start if we knew."

When you made the decision to start A.D., you said you knew on Sunday, but you wanted to tell the quarterbacks first. Have you already decided on this one?

"No, we have not. I talked to the staff this morning -- it's even Stephen, and we'll decide at the end of the week who will start, whereas a week ago, A.D. was your starting quarterback and Chris was second."

When you evaluate Adrian, how much do you factor in the absence of two senior offensive linemen and your top three tailbacks?

"That's exactly right. All that would have to be factored in, no doubt about it. You lost Maddox, you lost Antoine pretty early, and lost Montrae probably at the half. All of that would be factored in, but we'll probably go by what we see in practice this week."

Is Chris' big-game experience something you need?

"Could be. The big thing is, when you're playing somebody like Florida or Notre Dame or anybody like that, the number one thing that you must try to eliminate is turnovers. His experience could really help him if he would not turn the ball over."

Does leaving the quarterback situation up in the air help you in terms of giving Florida something different to prepare for?

"I think they're similar enough, and I think they have seen both of them play where they can formulate their game plan with no problem. I don't think it would be any problem to them which one would start. I don't think their defense would change one bit with which one's in there. They'd probably know certain things to look for from one, that they wouldn't have to look for from the other?"

Does the game lose some of its luster with you having four losses and them having three?

"Well, it takes a lot out of it. I think they're catching us at a good time. They've had a week off, and they ought to be pretty rested. They've probably got some boys back. We're probably as bad off right now, injury-wise and beat-up wise, as we've been. I guess it gets this way at the end of every year. This is what can happen if you play 13 ballgames, instead of 11, like it has been. We're down to a beat-up state. I wish we could have an open date last week."

Do you ever worry about going back and forth with your quarterbacks? Do you wonder how that affects their confidence?

"I don't like doing it. I think the situation, I think the play of our quarterbacks, requires me to take a strong look at both of them again."

If you weren't sure, would you ever use them both? Would you try alternating, for example?

"I think if everything was failing, you would try anything, even that. If everything else was falling apart. I say falling apart -- if everything else wasn't working. Steve Spurrier did that to us one year and beat us. Most of us don't know how to do it that way."

We saw several incidents this weekend around the country, in which fans really raised some havoc during post-game celebrations. What's your take on that?

"I hear a lot of comments about that. To me -- I don't know how to stop that, but they need to stop the people from coming out of the stands and getting on fields. It's getting dangerous. There was a pro ballgame -- no, it was a college game -- some guy got knocked down somehow (a Marshall fan was knocked down by a Miami of Ohio coach following the Thundering Herd's win). There were quite a few that crossed my face yesterday, that if I had said the wrong thing or maybe looked at them the wrong way, I could be very easily confronted. They just smother you. That's getting dangerous. It's not even celebrating anymore. It's a mob. It's turning into a mob, and that's dangerous."

Coach, to follow up on that, you said that quite a few fans "crossed your face." What's the security arrangement around you?

"Well, I had (Florida State Trooper) Bill Smith right there beside me, and then we had one of the local state troopers, one of the Carolina state troopers that lives right there. They would literally have to hold me up sometimes. I'm talking about grab you by the arm and pull you over here and pull you over here to keep you from getting run into. I didn't get run into, but if I had a bad attitude, if I'd have poked somebody -- but I don't have that bad attitude. I could see somebody coming out of there that couldn't control his temper really blasting somebody."

A couple of your players said that they could tell earlier in the week that the offense wasn't focused. As coaches, did you see signs of this in practice?

"I didn't see anything that wasn't focused. You'd have to define that one."

Brett Williams said in the locker room that he knew before the game that the players weren't ready for this game.

"I didn't see it. To me, it looked like they worked about as hard as they always did, and used the same procedure. I didn't see anything like that. Unless he knows something we don't know. When you lose, everybody thinks something's up."

In the middle of the season, when Florida was struggling, Ron Zook received a lot of criticism. How did you react to that?

"I would imagine I'm catching the same heat right now. You have to admire him for coming there and following somebody like Steve Spurrier. That's a very tough, dangerous situation. He had enough intestinal fortitude to take that job. With that comes the expectactions to do exactly like the last guy did, have the same success immediately. It don't always work that way. Very seldom. Larry Coker made it work, but I'll bet you 90% of the time it don't work that good. You know that's going to happen. If you lose a ballgame, then of course the criticism starts. Again, if you've been around it a long time, you know that's the way it is, you prepare yourself for it, and then hope that your contract will hold up. We used to always say, if a coach goes into a new job, he needs five years. Don't take a four-year contract. Don't take a three-year contract. You've got to have a five-year contract. The first year you'll go in there, you're not going to be able to recruit, because you're late. And the next year, you'll recruit your first class. Four years later, they're seniors. If you're not good by then, you might as well go get another job anyway."

Ron Zook is the sixth head coach for the Gators since you started at FSU. How much has the rivalry evolved?

"It's gotten competitive. When I was an assistant at Florida State, in 1964, that was the first year we ever beat the University of Florida. Of course, that was the first year the University of Florida ever came to Tallahassee. When the series started, it had to be played in Gainesville. In 1964, they came to Tallahassee, we won the game -- the first time. It's not a good tie-up there. You've got one team that dominates it. Then there's been ten-year spans where Florida won every game for 10 years. I think when I came here, in 1976, I think they had won ten years in a row. We finally beat them in 1977. Since that time, it's been back and forth, back and forth, and has become a series. It's become a real traditional game. It's kind of like the ACC. Until the people in the ACC start beating Florida State, there's no traditional rivalries for Florida State, and it's not a good conference -- they say. But now, North Carolina State's knocked us off three times. That's fixing to evolve into a heck of a series there. They've won. To answer your question, the Florida-Florida State series is a pretty good national game now, between two state universities. A very heated rivalry, because the wins are fairly even the last couple of years."

Do you think the rivalry had gotten out of control, with the fans and their passions?

"I've always felt that way, but probably not any more than Alabama or Auburn. Not any more -- probably not any more than Michigan-Ohio State, or Georgia-Georgia Tech, or Mississippi-Mississippi State. Those traditional rivals -- I think they've all gotten out of hand as far as the fans are concerned. It's just like getting on the field after the game and tearing down the goalposts and becoming a mob. That's really gotten out of hand. Somebody's going to really get hurt in this thing before it's over."

One of the prevalent topics of this week is going to be the Darnell Dockett-Earnest Graham issue, with the claims that were made about Graham's knee. How will you deal with that issue?

"It won't be an issue with either team. It'll probably be an issue with the press. I thought Coach Zook handled it -- I was reading some of his comments last week. When somebody asked him about it, his comment was nearly like 'what happened? I didn't even know about it.' I think that's about the way to treat it, and I think that's about the way both teams will treat it, and both coaching staffs will treat it that way. I'm sure it'll be brought up by the press, but we're not going to have a whole lot to say about it."

Were you glad that Coach Zook defused the situation?

"Yeah, and I thought he would."

Do you feel like this season has been too long? Do you think you'd ever play a 13-game schedule again?

"I would not want to go back to a 13-game schedule. I'd like to go back to an 11-game schedule. I think next year's going to be 12 again, but I'd like to go back to 11. As the year goes on, you worry about injuries. They begin to crop up to some teams, not all. If I had my preference, it would be 11 games. I think the rule has already been passed where it'll be 12 again next year."

The problems that A.D. had yesterday -- is it a question of not making throws, or his mental state, or what?

"I'm not sure what and why. I didn't think he had done that in the other three ballgames. That is, we had people open and he missed 'em. We had a guy open on a bomb and he underthrew it. We had a guy open on a corner route, and he threw it out of bounds. We had a guy open on a takeoff route, and he threw it way ahead of him. He did hit Talman on a sure touchdown pass, which would have put us ahead. You know what that game reminded me of, exactly? The dadgum Oklahoma game in the Orange Bowl. You're behind by three, or you're behind by six, and all you need is a touchdown and a extra point and you're ahead. We just never could get it. A.D. took some sacks yesterday that he hadn't been taking. It was enough to make us want to take another look at Chris Rix."

Does Fabian Walker enter the mix this week?

"Fabian is still, to me, a step behind. I watch him every day, and I watch him closely. When I watch him throw pass skeleton, go through drills -- he'll miss one that they won't miss, every now and then. Just enough to make me think he's number three."

This year, neither Florida nor FSU is a factor in the national championship race. Is it time to accept the fact that this game won't be a game with major national title implications in the future?

"Everybody is not going to be good every year. Nebraska's not good this year. We're not as good as we've been. Florida is not quite as good, but they're doing better than us. Miami's good again. That doesn't have anything to do with the future. That doesn't have anything to do with what'll happen two years from now, three years, or next year. Sometimes it only takes one year to turn it around. It's still there for both schools."

Despite the different circumstances, do you think this game means any less to the fans of either school or to you?

"No, I don't. It doesn't to me. It means the same to me, because I know what happens if we lose it. You've got to explain it all over the state next year, and that sure is hard to do. It makes your booster dinners a whole lot better when you win. Same for them. It's still got that kind of pressure on the coaches and the players. The fans -- it's still just as meaningful to them. From an outsider's look -- their attention is going to be on Miami, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and these people that only have one loss -- Georgia."

When it had national championship implications, it could make or break a team's season. Now, here you are with three and four losses, but it still has the potential to make or break your season.

"No doubt about it. To me, when you're having what I call a bad year, there's nothing that'll spruce it up like a win over Florida if you can get it. Same for them."

Rex Grossman struggled this year with the new system. He considered coming out for last year's NFL draft. He's played better lately, and now he's considering returning for his senior year. Could you just talk about what you've observed from him?

"Number one, he has been a great quarterback, no matter what's happened. He has experienced some tough days early in the year. A lot of that is because of changing in the offenses, the terminology and all that stuff. He is finishing up strong, and no matter how he finishes up, nobody can take his potential away from him, which I think is probably as good as anybody in the country's, as a passing quarterback."

Do you like to see guys like that finish out their senior year?

"I'd like to see that, but not against me. If you can leave our team out of the equation -- yeah, I like to see that happen. I'd like to see it for him. I think he's one of the good guys. He don't remind me of a bad guy."

Would it be a major impact on your program if you lose to Florida? You would have lost to Miami and Florida two years in a row.

"That'd be bad. I'd hate for it to happen, but it could sure happen. Florida's playing pretty good right now. Florida should be in real good condition playing us, with a week off. We're probably in as beat-up a condition right now as we've been all year."

Would that really damage your recruiting?

"Not a whole lot. Some kids want to go where you're winning, and some kids want to go where they think they can help you and play. That probably breaks even. I don't know of any measuring stick where you could get an accurate count of that. Sometimes, when we have not had great years, we've had our best year recruiting. And then sometimes we've had our best years and not had a great year recruiting. Sometimes, kids don't want to go to your school because you've got too many good players. They want to go somewhere else. I don't think that becomes a big factor."

This will be the last home game for your senior class. That group has been through a lot, haven't they?

"You know, when they came to Florida State, one of the reasons they came -- probably -- was to win a national championship. In answer to that, they got it early. But at least they got it. I know they're disappointed in the last two years, with the losses they've got. As long as they try as hard as they can try and have done the best they can do, really that's all they have to face."

Since the quarterback change after the Notre Dame game, your defensive players seemed more enthusisiastic. Would you worry that your defense wouldn't be as fired-up if you switched back to Chris?

"I'll do what I think is best for the team. I think the best thing for our team now is to get that dadgum offense moving where we can win a ballgame. Our defense played pretty good the other night, except not taking the ball away from the other team enough. Forty minutes for the other team to have the ball -- your offense is out there, and they got to get it done in 20 minutes. There ain't enough time. If I think that a quarterback change will help us, our team would have to accept that. If I thought that was the thing to do, I'd have to do it."

Have you ever gone this deep into a season with this much uncertainty at that position?

"I can't remember if I did. Wait, yes I can. I think it was 1974, at West Virginia, I had my first and second-team quarterback out for the year. I was going between third and fourth one. I think both of them were freshmen. I had to play 'em, and there was a little debate late in the season -- I'm talking eighth or ninth game -- of starting one over the other. In answer to your question, that's the only one I can remember where this late we were still changing quarterbacks."

o the players know that you're considering making a change at the quarterback position?

"No, I haven't talked to them. I haven't had a chance to talk to them. They'll read it in the paper tomorrow. That doesn't bother me. I think they sense it. I think A.D. senses it."

How close did you think this team was to where you wanted it to be? What did this game change?

"I thought we were moving in the right direction, and was feeling real good about it. Our defense has really made progress the last three weeks. They're still not a dominating defense. Any time a team can stay out on the field for forty minutes with the ball -- that's not exactly what you want. On the other hand, they're keeping them out of the end zone. I think they scored one touchdown the other night. Both of their big plays came off of trick plays. Our defense was coming along, and I felt like our offense was coming along with A.D., at least not losing the ballgames by fumbling the ball or turning it over. I don't care who your quarterback is. Maybe if you lose guys like Greg Jones, Nick Maddox Willie Reid -- lose your first three tailbacks -- I've already determined I'm not going to put Booker in a game. I'm not going to waste him. We'll save him for next year. I thought the last ballgame, we didn't stay on that progressive string."

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