Fans greet Bowden’s departure with mixed reactions

By BRENT KALLESTAD, Associated Press Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Some Florida State fans wanted Bobby Bowden to retire years ago.

Others never wanted him to stop coaching the Seminoles.

Bowden was back at work in his office Wednesday in a subdued athletic center, a day after he announced this season will be his last at Florida State.

Around Tallahassee, the place Bowden has called home for the last 34 football seasons, reaction was mixed to the 80-year-old Hall of Famer’s decision to step down.

Bowden’s 315 coaching wins at Florida State are more than twice the number of victories achieved by his seven predecessors in their combined 29 years.

“He’s brought so much history to this school,” Florida State student Casey Caldwell said. “It’ll be an end of an era and I don’t want it to happen now, especially as I’m a senior.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, felt the same way, offering a resolution Wednesday for the U.S. Senate to adopt honoring Bowden “for his monumental achievements.”

But there were also those who felt Bowden stayed too long, some who canceled season tickets in recent seasons as attendance dropped off noticeably the last two years.

“People here really respect him and are very appreciative of what he’s done over the years for the program, but the kind of general attitude of the students here is that it’s kind of about time for him to leave,” FSU student Zach Cohen said. “I think they’re ready for a new change and ready to move on.”

John Fillion, a systems analyst from Tampa who has been attending Florida State games since the early 1990s, echoed those comments.

“The program had fallen off and they need young blood in there, but it’s sad the way it ended,” Fillion said Wednesday. “It’s sad to see him go this way when you think of all the things he’s done for the university.”

In some ways, Bowden was forced out — given the choice of coming back as little more than an overseer of the program he resurrected from the brink of extinction. Bowden wouldn’t accept that and chose to retire instead — a man proud of his achievements.

“His legacy will be not only what he’s done for Florida State University but the entire state of Florida,” said Gov. Charlie Crist, a graduate of the school. “A great role model to an awful lot of people.”

Seminoles past and present talked about what Bowden meant to them as people and not just athletes.

“He was incredible teaching guys character and integrity and teaching them how to live after the game of football,” said former Florida State All American defensive end Peter Boulware, who went on to star in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. “He was able to take boys and turn them into men.”

Bowden coached the boys of many men who played for him a generation ago, including junior quarterback Christian Ponder.

“He changed my dad’s life, he changed my life,” Ponder said.

Bowden plans to keep talking to church groups and working with young men, while keeping a close eye on Florida State’s football fortunes, especially next year when he expects to the Seminoles to have a big year under new coach Jimbo Fisher.

He has one game left, likely in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., against West Virginia, where he coached before taking over the Seminoles.

In the end, Bowden couldn’t live up to the lofty standards he set at Florida State.

“Coach Bowden loves the university and he’s going to do what’s best for this university and that’s what he’s figured out and that’s what he’s done,” Ponder said.