Please, everyone. If you're going to point a finger, point it directly at FSU president T.K. Wetherell.
The bottom line of this ever-evolving carnival that has become Florida State football: Bowden's message no longer is being heard by his players.
And because of that, this once proud program is drowning in inexplicable losses, underachieving seasons, off-field problems and now academic fraud.
And the man doing more harm than good is Wetherell.
Let me explain: Bowden is a football coach. In his mind, he believes as strongly as he ever has that he is thisclose to taking a team that has lost 16 games the last three seasons and turning it back into the team that lost 17 games from 1987-98.
In his mind, he is 78 going on 28. There is nothing he can't do.
Now here is Wetherell, a former player at FSU in the 1960s and Bowden's biggest fan. He says Bowden can/will retire when he wants to -- and no one can/will say otherwise.
Meanwhile, the foundation of FSU's athletic program -- its once elite football team -- is swirling in the drain. And Wetherell has no one to blame but himself.
Not Bowden, not recently fired athletic director Dave Hart, not the football players -- as many as 36 -- accused of academic fraud.
Wetherell could've ended this mess long ago by advising Bowden to retire, by eliminating emotion and evaluating the state of the program like a business. That's what Hart tried to do, and that's why he's getting paid $475,000 to not show up at work every morning.
The answer, people, is very clear: Bowden can't reach 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids like he used to. He can sit in their homes and sweet-talk the mommas and daddies into letting little Johnny come to Florida State. But once they get on campus, once they're in desperate need of direction, the message rings hollow.
Once the ability to reach and communicate and motivate is lost, the path to greatness becomes littered with obstacles that even an all-star cast of assistant coaches can't fix. It's just throwing good money (more than $1 million in salary for six new assistants last fall) after bad (yet another raise/extension for Bowden).
One or two or three players committing academic fraud happens all the time in college football. But 36 -- thirty-six -- players is systemic and a clear indication of zero leadership.
In the relationship between coach and player, there is a fine line between fear and respect. Coaches who can balance it are, more times than not, coaches who are hugely successful. FSU players don't fear Bowden, the grandfatherly coach who truly is one of the nicest men on the planet.
But nice doesn't win championships. Nice doesn't rattle through the skull of a 19-year-old when he's offered answers to quizzes, or when a teaching assistant offers to write a paper for him.
Wetherell is no better than the 36 players accused of academic fraud. Like those players, he respects and loves Bowden. Players don't fear the ramifications of cheating and getting caught; Wetherell doesn't fear the ramifications of ignoring the obvious downward trend of the football program.
Bowden is an old coach hanging on because he knows the alternative. What's he going to do, work in the garden? He knows Bear Bryant died a month after retiring from Alabama, and tells that story every summer at the annual ACC Media Days.
Don't blame Bowden. He's doing what anyone -- from a college coach to the produce guy at your local market, to a sportswriter -- would do when faced with the reality of retirement: staving it off as long as he can.
Meanwhile, Jimbo Fisher, Wetherell's million-dollar coach in waiting, isn't the solution. If he truly is the voice that reaches the team like many close to the program say he is, these off-field issues simply wouldn't happen.
It all comes back to Wetherell, who is paid to run an institution of higher learning and make tough decisions. And in the case of the football program, has failed miserably.
FSU doesn't just need a new coach. It needs new direction, a new philosophy. It's time to wipe the slate clean and start over.
A new president, a new coach, a new identity.
Sadly, it'll be more of the same until it can no longer be ignored.
If academic fraud isn't the turning point, what is?
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