TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Bobby Bowden will coach his final game at Florida State in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Bowl officials said Sunday that the Seminoles will play 18th-ranked West Virginia, the school Bowden left in 1976 to come to Florida State. The Seminoles began their 28-year streak of bowl games in 1982 when they defeated the Mountaineers 32-12 at the Gator Bowl.
Under normal circumstances, Florida State would have likely fallen to a lower bowl with its 6-6 record, but the possibility of keeping Bowden in Florida for his final game matched against his former school was too much for the Gator Bowl to ignore.
The 80-year-old Bowden announced Tuesday that he would retire after the Seminoles’ bowl game. Florida State is 5-0-1 in the Gator Bowl, including two wins over West Virginia.
Gator Bowl chairman Dan Murphy said they immediately jumped to Florida State when they learned of Bowden’s plans to retire.
“We got excited when we knew we could possibly pick Florida State,” Murphy said. “We couldn’t think of a better way for coach Bowden to go out.”
He said bowl officials expect tickets sales “to go through the roof.”
West Virginia (9-3) finished with wins over Pittsburgh and Rutgers while Florida State was defeated 37-10 in its season finale at Florida.
“I’ve seen West Virginia play two or three time times this season and I’m very impressed with them,” Bowden said in a statement.
“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to us all week,” Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman said. “We can celebrate coach Bowden’s last game with all our fans.”
Although he said he wanted to come back for a final year in 2010, Bowden chose to call it a career after reviewing the parameters the school sought to have him work within next year — namely defer much of his responsibility to coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher.
Forty-two of Bowden’s 388 career wins came at West Virginia between 1970-1975. He was West Virginia’s offensive coordinator for four seasons before becoming head coach.
Bowden took over a moribund Florida State program in 1976 that had won a total of four games in the previous three seasons and immediately turned in around.
The Seminoles won their last three games to finish 5-6 in Bowden’s inaugural year and haven’t had a losing season since, although a loss to the Mountaineers would snap that 32-year run.
Bowden will be facing his former school for the first time since Florida State beat West Virginia 30-18 in the Gator following the 2004 season.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was an assistant coach for that Mountaineers team and was a freshman lineman at WVU in Bowden’s first season in 1970.
“He’s one of my heroes,” Stewart said Sunday night. “He’s an icon to college football. It’s going to be a real, real challenge because I know they’re going to want to go out with a real bang for coach Bowden.
“I’m just a drop in the bucket compared to him. I love the man. All the accolades he gets, he deserves. I’ll be right there when he’s on the podium clapping louder than anybody.”
But Stewart said Florida State’s players will need to overlook the emotions of their retiring coach.
“All the attention’s going to go to coach Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles. And it should,” Stewart said. “They can’t forget our team. Our team cannot be overlooked. That would be a mistake on anyone’s part to overlook the Mountaineers.”
AP Sports Writer John Raby contributed to this story.