FSWA Wrap-up

Seven more state of Florida college football coaches came through Tampa Sunday for the concluding day of the Florida Sports Writers Association's annual season opening event.

Bobby Bowden was cordial, but much cooler toward the media than he's been in previous year. USF's Jim Leavitt appears eager to begin the most anticipated season in the Bulls young history. One thing virtually all in attendance could agree on: Jacksonville coach Kerwin Bell made a positive impression in his first appearance on a statewide level.

Bobby Bowden says in the 55 years he's been coaching, this year's Seminole coaching staff is only the third time he's had to build a staff from the ground up. Five new coaches have come in, mostly on offense, to fix the problems that have plagued FSU in recent years. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher is the most critical of the hires, and Bowden said he will be given full control of the playcalling. It's not clear who will be responsible for executing those plays, Drew Weatherford or Xavier Lee, but Bowden believes one of the juniors will succeed.

"I'd like to see great play by our quarterbacks, and I honestly believe we're going to get it," Bowden said. "I expect them to get it done."

Bowden has always been known as one of the most media friendly coaches in college football, but it appears the criticism he and son Jeff received during his last season as FSU's offensive coordinator has reduced his desire to cooperate with the press. Ordinarily, Bowden stays after his scheduled half hour appearance at the podium and answers questions for at least another 15 to 20 minutes in the hallway outside the main room. Sunday, he was in a car and gone within 90 seconds, stopping only long enough to pose for a picture in the parking lot with four Seminole fans. None of the FSU beat writers who were present could ever remember him doing anything like that previously.

While Bowden is used to FSU being touted as a top-10 program, Jim Leavitt's just getting a taste of those expectations with USF. His Bulls are coming off their first ever bowl victory and have been ranked in the top-25 by multiple preseason magazines. Leavitt's comfortable with that, but not too excited.

"It's nice, but we all know it comes down to playing," Leavitt said. "There's a number of top-25 ranked teams in the country that will end the year there, and there's some that won't. It has really nothing to do with how you're going to play."

One reason for so much enthusiasm about USF is sophomore quarterback Matt Grothe. Leavitt acknowledged how critical is is to avoid him being injured, but says the dimension Grothe's running brings to the USF offense is too important to give it up. With their second game of the season on the road against Auburn, the Bulls will need all the offensive options they can get.

Kerwin Bell knows something about quarterbacking against Auburn. That's why the Gator great's hiring as the head coach at Jacksonville University has clearly increased the program's visibility among the state's media. Bell held forth from the podium for his full half hour and then spent another 45 minutes with a large group of reporters outside the press conference room. It's likely that was more time than former coach Steve Gilbert got from the press in his nine seasons combined.

Bell made it clear he will not be doing things the way Jacksonville had previously, with his offseason program a prime example. Last year the Dolphins had around twenty players participate in summer workouts. This year, that number quadrupled. His list of goals for 2007 is a simple one - winning the Pioneer League and going to a bowl game.

"We're going to be a program that tries to win championships," Bell said. "There's no reason why you should play this game of football... if you're not trying to win championships."

In what may come as a bit of a surprise to Gator fans, among those singing Bell's praises at the FSWA gathering was Bobby Bowden.

"I just can't see Kerwin Bell not doing good," Bowden said. "He's got that great personality and I know he's a hard worker. He made a believer out of me when he beat us while he was at Florida."

Bowden added he thinks Bell will likely move up quickly in the profession if he wishes to do so.


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