Bowden Deserved Chance to ‘Turn Sea of Troubles’
There have been a lot of things happening in the news the past few days, from Tiger Woods to the White House Crashers, from Bobby Bowden to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday night.
While I have opinions on a lot of things, I will reserve judgment on most of these issues. But I do believe that the White House Crashers and those salivating over Tiger’s personal life should all just go away.
Among the events of the past week-and-a-half, the retirement of Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden is the one that comes closest to home for me.
A lot of people have weighed in, writing or saying a lot of things about the end of coach Bowden’s 34-year run in Tallahassee. Among the people who’ve written about it, most if not all never had to coach or recruit against him.
In my career, I’ve had to help coach against him on two occasions, the first in 1992 while I was just a young coach at The University of Virginia. Though the game was a home game in Charlottesville for us, the Seminole chant could be heard all through Scott Stadium by the time the contest was winding down.
The game ended with the sixth-ranked Seminoles escaping with a 13-3 win in a game that was hard-fought and physical. That was the hallmark of his teams -- they were tough, fast and physical.
Thirteen years later, as a coach at Penn State, we met the ACC champions Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Any fan of college football can tell you about that triple-overtime thriller won by Penn State, 26-23.
That game featured as much speed and as much hitting as any game either team had played. It was a demonstration of why football is a collision sport and not just a contact sport.
I have never been a FSU fan, but as this season began to wind down I found myself checking the FSU scores and rooting for them to win. As the losses mounted, I saw Bowden on the sideline and the anguish on his face was noticeable.
I was reminded of two things. The first was a passage from War and Peace that talked about Napoleon and the depression that sets upon a gambler who has had a long run of luck and finally realizes that “the more he considers his play the more surely he loses.”
The second was the fact that I myself had witnessed first-hand the same thing when the chips were down at Penn State a few years ago. It is a tough thing when an old general finds -- like Napoleon had found -- that “All the old methods that had invariably been crowned with success had already been employed.”
Where the two tales of Penn State and Florida State diverge is in how both schools reacted to adversity. Ultimately, amid all the criticism, Penn State allowed its coach to stay on and to reverse the course.
The public criticism at Florida State apparently trumped the loyalty of a coach who had remained for more than three decades.
Watching Florida State reminded me of the line from Hamlet that Joe Paterno read to his Nittany Lion team in 2004: “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”
Without the chance to take arms against a sea of troubles, the Penn State fans would never have known the glory and have the memories of the 2005 season. Without the ability to stand up to criticism, Penn State would not have run up a 52-13 record since Joe Paterno read Shakespeare’s words to his team with two games to play in the 2004 season.
All it took was faith in the next season.
Reportedly, all Bowden wanted was the chance to lead his troops one more year. What a small price to give to someone who has given you so much already -- to grant him one last year to turn the sea of troubles.
It could have been a glorious ride, but instead others sought to hasten his departure. Sadly, the fans at Florida State will never know the joy we all felt in 2005 when we saw that our long held beliefs and the core values for which our head coach stood did not have to mean sacrificing success on the field.
In the short term, many may believe that Florida State is now better off having moved on. But years from now they will look back and realize they were foolish -- foolish for not allowing Bobby Bowden his wish to go one more year.