TALLAHASSEE — Bobby Bowden believes the Florida State football program is in such a good place that he is returning to campus two years before he planned to be back.
The NCAA’s all-time wins leader was leery of hanging around the program and wanted coach Jimbo Fisher to have time to establish his own identity and foundation.
Bowden now feels that time has come.
The third-ranked Seminoles (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are the reigning conference champs, debuted at No. 2 in the BCS standings Sunday and have a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Jameis Winston. Bowden is no longer worried about being a distraction to the team he led to 31 bowl games, 12 ACC championships and two national titles.
“Jimbo’s got control real good, now, and has established himself,” Bowden said. “It’s probably time for me to get back.”
The former Seminoles coach will attend a game at Florida State Saturday for the first time since retiring after the 2009 season. Bowden, who said he plan was to stay away for five years, will plant the flaming spear at midfield as part of the pregame ceremonies before the Seminoles take on North Carolina State.
Bowden wanted to give Fisher space after his own experiences at West Virginia, where Bowden coached from 1970-75. There was criticism from fans after Mountaineers coach Jim Carlen left for Texas Tech. Bowden never wanted to have that impact on Fisher.
“I would get so many people saying, ‘Why don’t you do it like he did it?”’ Bowden recalled being asked after replacing Carlen. “Especially if you lost, they would bring up his name. It kind of caused some hard feelings on my part. I didn’t want Jimbo to go through that.
“When you’re following someone who’s been there for 34 years and that’s all people know – I felt like I needed to be out the doggone picture altogether and let them accept him.”
Fisher has certainly been accepted. He’s excited for the return of a mentor, but acknowledged he still feels the pressure of being Bowden’s successor.
“It’s what’s right about the world,” Fisher said. “He made Florida State. He was Florida State. That’s why we have this stadium, the facilities. That’s why we have academics, that’s why we have the school. That’s why we have everything.
“It’s what’s right for Florida State and it’s great for college football. I’m extremely excited because he was my hero, too.”
Bowden has been on campus to teach a couple classes and spends an average of two days a week conducting speaking engagements around the country. He still lives in Tallahassee, but the last time Bowden was on the field for a Florida State game, he was carried off as the Seminoles coach. About 250-300 former players are expected to on hand for Bowden’s first game since his retirement.
Bowden will make his second return as Homecoming grand marshal before the Syracuse game Nov. 16. He signed a two-year, $500,000 deal with the university during the summer to assist in the school’s fundraising efforts.