End of eras couldn’t have been better scripted

January 2, 2010

The universal truth about sports is that it doesn’t always go the way you want it to.

Most sports movies – even those sometimes based on a true story – always have that wonderful David vs. Goliath feeling. The Hollywood scripts feature adversity and triumph, but in the end the viewer gets what they want which is a happy ending.

Real life doesn’t go that way. Dolphins legend Dan Marino ended his career without a Super Bowl. Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks were quietly released from their teams with no final bow. 

Ever now and then, however, it does go the way you pictured it.

The end of the Tim Tebow and maybe the Urban Meyer era at Florida as well as the final act of the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State University went completely as planned.

 Tebow was brutally efficient in his dismantling of the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Sugar Bowl, erasing the frustration from the loss at Alabama. The stunning 482 passing yards passing that Tebow put up should help cement his legacy as one of the best players in college football history. The overall record is well known: 2 national titles, 1 Heisman Trophy, shattering a bunch of SEC records along the way.

Given the events of the past week it is not surprising that the Gators made sure to show their quarterback, their coach and the nation that the team was still among the best in the nation. And the Bearcats helped quiet the BCS critics by showing they did not deserve a shot at the national title.

Still it wasn’t unexpected that the Gators would be rebound from the Bama loss.

 But the Gator Bowl win by FSU was a bit of a shocker.

At first it looked like West Virginia would run the Seminoles out of the stadium, but in an amazing display both the defense – and freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel – turned in a spectacular performance  that probably threw the Mountaineers faithful for a loop. And it also should shut up the carping come from other ACC schools that were locked out of the Gator Bowl.

Despite the blather of some talking heads on both CBS and ESPN that the game proved Bowden needed another year – I think that the Seminoles played their best game of the season. Maybe it was the 300 former players who showed up. Maybe it was the huge contingent of FSU faithful that scooped every available ticket.  Who knows?

But it was a great way for a living legend to exit the stage. And for once, real life was better than a movie.


FSU’s expensive gamble

December 20, 2009

Well, here’s the good and the bad about Jimbo Fisher’s 5-year, $9 million deal with FSU.

The good: Paying more for performance. Fisher will get paid bonuses – as much as $250,000 – if he were to lead the Seminoles to a national championship.

The bad: FSU – which is in the midst of a leadership transition – decided to lock up Fisher to an expensive, long-term contract right before President T.K. Wetherell steps down. So now we have an incoming university president wedded to a football coach who has yet to prove if he is capable of being a head coach.

And even though it was time for Bobby Bowden to step down this move could eventually backfire on FSU officials.

FSU didn’t launch a nationwide search for Bowden’s successor. Instead they named Fisher head coach in waiting after his first year on the job hoping that Nick Saban’s success would rub off on his former offensive coordinator.

The pressure to win and win now will be enormous. Fisher will get no grace period from fans since he has been at FSU since 2007 and the players who will suit up next fall are guys that he helped recruit.

Those same fans – who wanted him so badly to take over – will hold Fisher to a pretty high standard. Bowden won two national championships during his legendary span as coach before the program sank into mediocrity. But the fans won’t remember the bad times under Bowden. If Fisher can’t get FSU to a title game the howls for his head will grow quickly and loudly. Just ask former Gators coach Ron Zook how easy it is to follow a popular coach with a pretty good track record.

Two or three years from now the FSU faithful could be wondering whether if they made an expensive gamble by locking in Fisher to a long-term lucrative contract. This is no small matter. FSU’s athletic department is self-sustaining and must turn to donations from the Seminole Boosters in order to balance its books. The day could come when donors are asked to kick in more money to convince a coach to head to the exit.

Stepping down is the right decision, but Fisher still needs to prove himself

December 1, 2009

In many ways the entire Bobby Bowden saga has played out like a classic tragedy.

 There’s the image of the conqueror laid low by age and betrayals trying in vain to hold on to his pride and to accomplish one last victory before he exits the stage forever. The conqueror has been betrayed by those younger than he, by those unable to appreciate the conquests and the glory that he has brought to everyone. Yet at the same time he mistakes loyalty for wisdom and his mind is clouded with hubris and he stumbles in the end.

There are those, of course, who say that Bowden deserves better, like say Dick Vitale, who insist that the 80-year-old Bowden deserves one last victory lap.

Here’s the truth: FSU’s success has been entirely due to Bowden. Nothing that happens now can take away the 2 national titles, the extraordinary run of Top 5 finishes, or the amazing string of bowl appearances.

But here’s the rest of the story: Bowden has been given fame and fortune in exchange for his extraordinary work. And his decisions in the last few years have damaged greatly the winning tradition that Bowden himself established. Bowden acted as if nothing he did, whether it was give his son a crucial important job, or hiring other coaches out of loyalty, could diminish his life’s work.

There’s part of me that continues to wonder if Bowden’s rage, rage against the dying light is due to his fear that he will go out the same way his idol Bear Bryant did. Bryant died just weeks after coaching his last game at Alabama.

Stepping down, however, is the right decision, no matter how clumsy the university may have handled it. If Bowden truly loves FSU as he said he does then he must realize that another year of this mess won’t help anyone. There’s no more of a guarantee that a national title is in the offing than there was this year. And what’s the point anyway? If FSU were a contender, then everyone would say it’s because Jimbo Fisher was given more say, given more leeway over the team. It’s a no-win situation for Bowden.

Bowden has already proven he’s a winner time and time again. In a few years no one will remember this last year. Instead what they will remember are the titles, the Heisman Trophy winners and the bowl wins.

And of course that’s what Coach Fisher needs to realize. He has been handed the keys to the kingdom over the objections of Bowden. Fisher will have no more excuses. Despite never having been a head coach, Fisher has been given the job of a lifetime. And while everyone has raved about his offensive success, let’s not forget that Bowen was once considered a genius on that side of the ball as well.

In my mind Fisher was given something before he truly proved it belonged to him. And while much of the problems this year were not of his doing, he made enough mistakes along the way – such as poor clock management against Miami – to raise doubts about his abilities.

Bowden’s departure will finally give FSU fans a chance to see whether or not Fisher is up to task, or whether his hiring is another decision that they will soon regret.

FSU vs. UF: 2 programs headed in different directions

November 24, 2009

It is totally understandable that FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher is emphasizing the handful of good plays that Florida State managed to achieve in last Saturday’s last second win over 2-9 Maryland.

Because I think everyone instinctively knows what is coming next. And that’s a total drubbing at the hands of chief rival Florida.

If you want to see two programs moving in completely different directions it will be this Saturday in the Swamp. And there’s no amount of sugarcoating that will change that fact.

If Christian Ponder was still the quarterback then FSU could have had a chance to shock the world. I happen to think that the Gators have actually not faced a competent passing team the entire season. They have geared both their offense – and defense – to the largely boring style of the SEC. Yes, every now and then there is a moment of excitement, but for the most part SEC teams use the spread, use the option, use the dive to move the ball on the ground.

A team that can quickly and methodically move the ball down the field in the air would be the perfect antidote for the Gators.

That’s not going to happen on Saturday. For all of his talent E.J. Manuel struggled last weekend against Maryland. It won’t get any easier against one of the nation’s top defenses. And FSU won’t have any answers for Heisman hopeful Tim Tebow and the rest of the crew. This game will probably get ugly and out of hand quickly.

Now I  know that some will say that FSU has a bright future looking ahead to next year. Lots of talent will be returning and Fisher’s offense was actually among the most productive in the ACC. There’s also the argument that everyone should give head coach Bobby Bowden the graceful exit that he deserves.

Well think about that after Saturday. Florida – winner of two national championships in the last three years – will rip apart FSU. Tebow will be gone next year, but the Gators will be loaded again with talent and again be a national contender.

Meanwhile, FSU still has given no clues about who the next defensive coordinator is going to be, whether Fisher indeed will have the final say over the preferred candidate, and so on and so on. There is likely to be continued drama and chaos in the FSU program in the coming year unless there is a decision to make a clean start.

FSU fans may have to accept the fact that their team right now is the fourth best in the state. And that could trigger an ongoing decline as the Seminoles find themselves losing superior talent to both Florida and Miami and even USF in the years to come. What FSU fans may have to accept is that a 6-5 season is about to become the status quo.

Tim Tebow vs. Christian Ponder: Who should be a Heisman contender?

November 2, 2009

While Tim Tebow had a masterful dominating performance on Saturday, let me ask you a question.

What should matter more when it comes to the Heisman Trophy and other honors – the number of wins you rack up, regardless of your performance, or how well you play week in and week out?

That’s because I think an argument can be made that Seminoles quarterback Christian Ponder is having a much better season than Tebow has so far.

But right now Ponder isn’t anywhere on the national radar screen when it comes to various postseason honors. Tebow’s 4 touchdown performance against Georgia helped brush aside the last few weeks of mediocrity and keep him in the hunt for the Heisman trophy. ESPN, for example, has Tebow ranked 3rd on its Heisman watch list. Tebow, along with University of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris, is also a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.

Yet I think there’s a good argument to be made that the Gators have remained undefeated this season in spite of Tebow, not because of Tebow. The Gators defense has repeatedly clamped down on teams and has kept them in ballgames where the offense has struggled.

Meanwhile, Ponder has racked up 2,453 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and only 3 picks. He’s also rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Ponder is currently ranked 5th in the nation in total passing yards, which is higher than any other Heisman contender except Houston’s Case Keenum. He does closely trail Tebow in overall quarterback rating, but that is a bit of a mystery since Tebow actually has more interceptions than Ponder does. (Tebow has four vs. Ponder’s three.) Ponder also has a much higher completion percentage.

(And to make this QB rating even more mysterious – UM’s Harris score is a .03 points higher yet he has less yards and 8 more picks than Ponder.)

Let’s face it. The fact that FSU is 4-4 is not Ponder’s fault. Now I would agree that the offense had trouble getting revved up in a couple of games this season. But it’s hard for a quarterback to win every week when he’s under pressure to score 40 points because the Seminoles defense is so suspect.

Do I think that Ponder deserves the Heisman Trophy? Probably not. But I think there’s an argument to be made he’s having as stellar a season as his downstate counterpart. Now Ponder’s overall career doesn’t come close to Tebow’s as evidenced by Tebow setting the SEC rushing record against the Bulldogs.

But in this season I think Ponder is getting shorted, while Tebow may be getting more credit than he deserves.





Will FSU fans show their displeasure on Saturday night?

October 7, 2009

blackoutSo it would appear from media accounts that Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden may get a reprieve and may in fact get to decide when he will step down despite the disappointment over this year’s 2-3 season.

There’s no doubt that Bowden – who met with FSU President T.K. Wetherell on Tuesday – has gotten his back  up about it. Just witness this exchange from Monday night where a clearly perturbed Bowden responds to a question from a female reporter about his future by saying he has no comment about his future and then while smiling says that her question “is like a woman.” He then goes on to say he had no idea that his wife, Ann Bowden, had criticized FSU Trustee Jim Smith for saying it was time for Bowden to step down.

But the question is whether FSU fans will begin to more forcefully show their feelings about the situation. One group on Facebook called BLACK OUT DOAK for CHANGE has already drawn nearly 5,000 members online. It is urging that FSU fans wear black to their home games – starting with this weekend’s clash with Georgia Tech – to tell the administration that “the fans want something drastic done.” Nearly 2,000 FB members have already “confirmed” they plan to show up at this weekend’s game in black.

There is at least pro Bowden group that has formed on Facebook called “Stop Trashing Bobby Bowden” and it has more than 100 members right now, although in their defense their group hasn’t got the same amount of publicity as the first one. Others defending Bowden include Deion Sanders who told the Tallahassee Democrat “at least have a proper funeral for him.”

It is becoming crystal clear that FSU has a full-blown crisis on its hands and that one way or the other the university is going to be forced to step forward and explain what’s going to happen to Bowden, what’s going to happen with head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher, and who is going to control the team.

And oh yeah, there’s still a bunch of games left to play. It might be good to do something soon to end the distractions.

FSU president must decide if it’s time for Bowden era to end

October 4, 2009

On the same weekend that the University of Miami upset Oklahoma and completed an impressive four-game stretch, it is clear that the end of an era is coming for Florida State.

When head coach Bobby Bowden is forced to defend himself as vigorously as he did in the moments following the loss to Boston College, you can tell that even he knows that the pressure is mounting against him. Bowden told reporters “What would I gain by stepping down now? What would you do? Fire everybody and bring in a new coaching staff?”

When veteran FSU beat writer Steve Ellis – who has covered the program for years and even wrote a book with Bowden – is now saying it’s time for him to go – then you know that Bowden is running out of allies. The Sentinel chimed in with the same theme.

Plus, it’s apparent right now that Bowden will never catch Joe Paterno.  He’s fallen three games behind the Penn State legend and right now it appears highly unlikely that the NCAA will reverse itself on the decision to strip Bowden of 14 victories due to the cheating scandal that caught up the entire athletics department.

One big problem, of course, is the fluid situation at FSU. Hate to diverge into politics, but the fact that President T.K. Wetherell has already announced his resignation could also play a role in how this plays out. Wetherell himself could force Bowden out since he’s got little to lose by the decision. Or on the very least, he could persuade Bowden that it would be in his best interest to step down before a new president is selected. In other words, T.K. could give Bowden a way to exit somewhat gracefully and have him avoid a confrontation with the next administration.

That way Wetherell would at least have tried to resolve the situation as he heads out the door instead of handing his successor a mess to figure out.

But then again will a new president go along with handing the job over to Jimbo Fisher with no questions asked? Or will a new president be willing to pay $5 million in order to have complete control moving into the future. Wetherell probably has no way of knowing that, but he does have to decide what he wants the next president to deal with.

It is such an unfortunate way for Bowden to exit the stage. Without him there would be no FSU program to speak of. No nice stadium, no national championships. Many boosters would likely say Bowden earned the right to go when he wanted.

But now it’s clear that’s not going to happen. The only remaining question is when and where Bowden will make it official and say he’s walking away.