Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Ups and downs of a decade for Beamer and Bowden

Ten years after they met on college football's grandest stage, it has come to this: Bobby Bowden squirms while Frank Beamer smiles.

Beamer's not smiling at Bowden's situation, of course. A "there but for the grace of God go I" sentiment exists in the coaching business, and it's all but impossible to dislike Bowden, the man.

But Bowden, the Florida State coach? Most aren't too keen on that combination anymore, and Beamer knows how quickly that can happen to anybody in his profession.

"I think if you're winning, you're OK," Beamer said Tuesday, repeating his familiar mantra on the current coaching climate. "If you're not winning, you're not OK. And sometimes, you can't win enough."

Such is the case for Bowden. The 79-year-old coach spent most of Wednesday's ACC teleconference fielding more questions about his job security. The FSU president issued a statement that no coaching change will occur during the season, but that's done little to dull the pitchforks in Tallahassee, where the Seminoles are 2-3 and 0-2 in the ACC.

"I've been through it before," Bowden said, citing his early struggles at West Virginia in 1974. "I wish it didn't occur, but dadgummit, there ain't but one answer: winning."

For Tech and FSU, their divergence following their meeting in the BCS national title game in January 2000 is striking. Consider:

-- The 4-1 Hokies are on pace to win 10 games for the sixth straight season, while the Seminoles look like they'll fail to reach 10 victories for the sixth straight year.

-- The Hokies were preseason favorites to win the Coastal Division and are in command to do just that. The Seminoles -- picked to win the Atlantic -- trail all five opponents on their side of the ACC.

-- The Hokies have won three ACC titles since joining the league in 2004. The Seminoles have just one conference title in the expansion era.

-- While the Hokies are dominating the region and ranked No. 5, the Seminoles don't even have a case in their own state. Three Florida schools are ranked this week; not one sports garnet and gold.

-- The Hokies won last year's Orange Bowl, while the Seminoles have not won a BCS game since topping the Hokies in that memorable Sugar Bowl.

The furor surrounding Bowden took an official tone this week when chairman of the university's board of trustees, Jim Smith, called for the coach's resignation at the end of the season. Bowden said his view on the matter has not changed.

"Same old story," Bowden said. "When the season's over, I'll let 'em know if I want to come back."

But that might not be his choice. And for current players who grew up watching Bowden dominate the national landscape, it's stunning.

"I didn't think I'd see the day," Tech linebacker Cody Grimm said.

Perhaps Bowden did, though. The confetti hadn't even stopped falling in New Orleans following FSU's 46-29 victory over the Hokies -- the second national title for the program Bobby built -- when Bowden cautioned about the challenge of staying on top.

"What we've got to be able to do is keep this thing together as best we can," he said that night. "One reason we're where we are is we've been able to keep our coaches."

Indeed, FSU's average coaching tenure heading into that game was 15.2 years on the full-time Seminoles staff. One by-product of their success, though, was that stability deteriorated quickly. Longtime assistant Chuck Amato left to become the head man at N.C. State. Georgia scooped up offensive coordinator Mark Richt in 2001, and Bowden responded with the disastrous decision of hiring his son as offensive coordinator.

Jeff Bowden was forced out in 2006, part of a four-man overhaul of the offensive staff. Jimbo Fisher, a respected football mind, took over as coordinator, but the Seminoles offense has not returned the dominant level of the Richt years.

That same night 10 years ago, Beamer talked about the real possibility of losing some of his top aides.

"Some day, these guys will go off and be head coaches," Beamer said that night.

Yet only one did: Offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle, who left for Louisiana-Lafayette. Other key figures in on-field and recruiting success -- Bud Foster, Billy Hite, Charley Wiles, Bryan Stinespring, Jim Cavanaugh -- are still on the payroll today.

"I think we're a consistent, solid coaching staff," Beamer said Tuesday. "And when you have that, you have some consistency in your program and you're not up and down."

Grimm, the Hokies' leading tackler, echoed the importance of stability.

"It's good to know that when you're going to commit to a school, you're going to have the same system in there for all those years," he said. "It's hard enough to learn the defense in a year. You don't want to have to go in there and learn it, then all of a sudden turn around and learn another."

As true today as it was 10 years ago.

Just ask Bobby Bowden, who was more prescient than he'd ever want to be.

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