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.


Stunning news about Meyer means a seismic shift in college football

December 27, 2009

Florida head coach Urban Meyer will face a barrage of questions on Sunday about his stunning decision to step down from his job after the Sugar Bowl.

There will be questions about his health, what he will do in the future, whether he is gone from coaching for good, and how he will assist in finding his own replacement.

But the biggest question of course is….what happens next?

The news about Meyer – combined with Bobby Bowden’s departure – is a seismic shift in college football in both the state of Florida and the nation.

Meyer brought the Gators to unprecedented heights and made them the most dominant program in the state. The list of accolades is long, including 2 national titles, an amazing winning percentage and a 15-1 record against the Gators biggest rivals.

Keeping that intact won’t be as easy as some might think regardless of who is picked as a successor. Gainesville-bound recruits will pretty soon hearing whispers in their ears that they should think about going someplace else.

Meyer already had a bit of rebuilding job ahead of him in 2010 thanks to the departure of Gators legend Tim Tebow. And the Gators earlier this month lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. So while there will be a lot of blather about how this is one of the most attractive jobs in the nation the truth is that the next coach for the Gators will have tremendous challenges when he walks through that door.

The biggest challenge will be the immediate pressure on the next UF coach to match the recent successes of the Gators. That could be a tall order given that Meyer is leaving while the Gators are at their peak. I don’t think next season would have been a down year for the team, but it’s hard to imagine the Gators would have been as good as they have been the last three years.

This change, in many ways, may be a Christmas gift for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, Mark Richt at Georgia….and even Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (Just as an aside – it’s interesting how Spurrier is not viewed right now as a top contender for the opening. Um, hey Gator Nation, he’s the one that made the job so attractive to Meyer in the first place….)

But this decision could result in more than just a realignment of the SEC.

For three decades the programs in the state of Florida – University of Miami, Florida State and UF – have dominated college football in a way that no other state can rival. To have 3 schools from the same state battle it out for national championships is truly unprecedented. The fact that the three schools have combined for 11 national titles in the last 26 years is astounding.

The end of the Bowden era, and now the end of the Meyer era, could wind up as the demarcation point of a new period in college football where the Big 3 Florida schools no longer dominate the national scene like they once did. Other schools have already begun poaching players from Florida high schools and this could just accelerate it. This could also be the opening that programs at the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida need.

Or maybe even worse to FSU and UF fans – this could mark the starting point of a new time of dominance for the U.

While Miami’s season was a disappointment, the team is still playing in a bowl and Jacory Harris is an extremely talented quarterback who will probably get a lot better. And there is hope that the defense – which was Miami’s biggest weakness – will become a dominant unit next season.

It’s too early to tell of course just how all this will play out, but it’s a gamechanger all the way around.


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.


So what now for FSU?

November 10, 2009

The devastating news that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder will miss the rest of the season seems unfortunately like a fitting end to this dismal season for the Seminoles.

Without their top offensive player, it seems all but certain that FSU will be unable to muster the 2 wins it needs in order to become bowl eligible. It’ s hard to imagine that this team can put together an effective enough offensive attack to win on the road at either Wake Forest or Florida.

So now Ponder is gone for the rest of the year. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews is leaving after this season. And…..what’s next?

While FSU officials have said they will evaluate the direction of the program after the season, head coach Bobby Bowden has sent signals that he wants one more year at the helm. Bowden has also suggested that he should have a say in who should replace Andrews.

This is just a recipe for another disaster in the coming year.

At some point there has to be some accountability. At some point Bowden – who preaches the need for teamwork – has to realize it’s not about him anymore. It’s about the team, it’s about the program, it’s about the university. He has been duly rewarded with money, with fame, with honors during his masterful coaching career.

But at the end of the day what signal does it send to young players that some people don’t have to worry about their performance? Doesn’t that go against everything that football supposedly teaches? Why I should have to try hard if the coach doesn’t.

There’s no doubt that Bowden is owed tremendous amounts of gratitude by the FSU faithful. But if FSU ends the season without a bowl, without a winning season, then it is time to say thank you and move on. FSU can’t afford yet another season like this one if it wants to remain one of the top college football programs in America.


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.