Seminole Coach's Lesson in Diplomacy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The droopy eyelids. The pronounced Southern drawl. Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden is undeniably his father's son. To hear some critics tell it, that's where the similarities end.

Hear FSU Center David Castillo Here.Bowden has come under fire for an offense that, while hardly stagnant, has not performed up to the expectations of many Seminoles followers. The criticism was so intense during the team's three-game losing streak in November that head coach Bobby Bowden lashed back, calling his son's critics “cowards.”

The younger Bowden was more diplomatic than his father Sunday during a news conference that dwelled as much on his career as on his team's upcoming Orange Bowl matchup with Penn State. As far as the 12th-year Seminoles assistant is concerned, criticism comes with the territory.

“It doesn't affect me as much now as it did in the beginning,” he said. “I did pay attention to it, I did listen to it too much. You say, 'I'm going to go to work earlier, I'm going to stay later, I'm going to work hard.' But you can only put so much time in before you start tearing your body down.”

Like Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, Bowden has been a lightning rod for fan unrest. His promotion from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator in 2001 was controversial because it required school officials to circumvent state anti-nepotism regulations by reorganizing the team's chain of command. The new arrangement, established so that Bowden wouldn't report directly to his father, had him answering instead to defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

Even that might not have rankled so many observers had the Seminoles continued to win as often as they did in the 1990s. But they lost four games in 2001, five the following year, three apiece in 2003 and 2004 and four during this past regular season.

Those kinds of finishes don't go over well at places like Florida State. The school won two national championships with Mark Richt directing the offense and never lost more than two games in a season.

And yet the Seminoles have fielded some productive offenses since Bowden was promoted, including this season's starting unit. Even with redshirt freshman Drew Weatherford starting at quarterback, Florida State ranked third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense (383.4 yards per game) and second in scoring offense (29.4 points per game). Weatherford led the league in total offense at 243.8 yards per game.

None of which matters in the end.

“It goes back to wins and meeting the expectations that Florida State has,” Bowden said.

Players have come to Bowden's defense, as have opponents. As Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley noted Sunday, “[Florida State] is averaging 30 points a game and almost 400 yards. I don't think many people would mind having those statistics.”

But the numbers came largely at the expense of weak competition. Florida State topped 500 yards against four opponents this year — Syracuse, Wake Forest, Duke and The Citadel. In their four games against ranked opponents, the Seminoles surpassed 300 yards only once — in a 34-7 loss to Florida in which many of their 334 yards of total offense came long after the outcome had been decided.

Still, Bowden is optimistic about the Seminoles' future, largely because of Weatherford. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder made the usual freshman mistakes, including 17 interceptions. But he also showed raw ability and resilience.

“I don't know how many freshman quarterbacks have gone out and done what Drew has done,” Bowden said. “But I know what to expect for the next three years, and I know what has to be eliminated. Drew does too.”

And if Weatherford bears watching, the critics, Bowden believes, do not.

“You can't pay attention,” he said. “It's as simple as that. I've learned to close my eyes and shut my ears and keep tunnel vision on this football team and on this offense and on my job.”

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