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Martin Fennelly Columns

Even now, Bowden not too far from the game

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:48 PM
TAMPA -

When he's not demanded as a speaker somewhere in the state, country or world, or not puttering around the golf course he lives along, and it's a college football Saturday – he works a 12-hour shift at the TV in the only home he has ever owned in Tallahassee.

"I watch every dadgum game," Bobby Bowden said on the telephone. "I vote in the Legends Poll. I'm there from noon to midnight. Sometimes, when you're outside watching, you realize how much pressure those coaches are under."

He has Florida State No. 2 in his poll.

"I pull for them every week," Bowden said.

Tonight, Jimbo Fisher, Bowden's successor at FSU, brings the surging Seminoles to town to play Skip Holtz's sliding South Florida Bulls. Bowden will be far from the big crowd, by choice since he was squeezed out after the 2009 season.

"Well, I do go by and kiss (my) statue now and then, ask it, 'Miss me?'" Bowden said with a laugh.

It's always nice to check on the State of the Bobby.

It was 36 years ago when Bowden, coaching a college all-star game in Tampa, was approached by Florida State administrators looking to hire him away from West Virginia.

It was 33 years ago this month when Bowden coached the Seminoles in Tampa for the only time, a rain-drenched pounding of Arizona State, a springboard to Bowden's first great leap forward, an 11-1 season and an Orange Bowl.

"After that game, it started happening for us," Bowden said.

It was 25 years ago when Florida State began an unprecedented 14-year run of Top 5 finishes, with two national championships and several near misses.

And it was on a late September day in 2009, Bowden's final season, that USF stunned Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium, the last game a Bobby ballclub was ranked.

"That probably started it, that probably got me on the way out," Bowden said. "We had other games like that, but that was the one that probably got the administration thinking we got to get old Bobby to leave."

Bowden has hardly been back. There was the day he helped clean out his office. And there was his recent induction into the Florida State Hall of Fame. Bowden says he hasn't been on the FSU campus other than those visits.

"I told Jimbo he wasn't going to see me around no more and I meant it. I wanted him to have a free hand and not have me looking over his shoulder."

He turns 83 in November. There was a time when he was coaching when he worried about stepping away, thinking it a death sentence. There was his hero and friend, Bear Bryant, who died soon after he left coaching. Now he thinks of his friend Joe Paterno, too. I guess Bobby has surprised himself.

"It seems to be good," Bowden said. "Every day I'm not speaking, I'm out on the golf course. ...People ask me if I miss coaching and I surprise them and tell them I don't miss it a bit. I will tell you this: There is a withdrawal. There is a withdrawal period. You say, 'My team, my school, no longer.' But you accept it. You accept that your career is over."

In retirement, he became the all-time winning FBS coach, ahead of Paterno.

"I draw no elation, no pleasure," Bowden said.

He says he'll eventually return for an FSU game.

"But not right now. I've already accepted it. It was hard to fathom. I couldn't believe it. I called their bluff and they let me know who was boss. And I admire them for that. I admire them for standing up for what they believed. I still think they were wrong. I only wanted one more year. That's all. But they had a right to do what they did. I forgive them."

Bowden cackled.

"But I'm still taking names."

South Florida coach Skip Holtz worked as a graduate assistant for Bowden in 1987 and 1988.

"I was real close with Lou," Bowden said. "I thought (Skip) probably had some winner's blood in him."

Not so much this season for 2-2 USF.

"Welcome to the club," Bowden said. "I went through tough times. His daddy went through tough times. I do know he's lost a couple of dadgum games. But he's smart enough and I think he's at a program that wants to build a champion. But there ain't no doubt it's an impatient society. They used to give you a five-year deal and you got your five. Now they say five, but they only give you two or three."

As for Jimbo Fisher:

"Jimbo has them going right now," Bobby Bowden said. "The big question is, 'Are they really back?' All you can say is they've cleared some hurdles. You clear the first, you go to the second. Clear the second, then the third. If you hit or miss one, you're done. The pressure doesn't come off when you win. The pressure begins to build. You've got to win. The pressure is off for me. But it's got to be on somebody, buddy, got to be on somebody."

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