May 5, 2003 TALLAHASSEE Bobby Bowden's six-week tour of Florida State booster clubs is in full swing, but the message he's relaying this spring has a decided edge. Instead of talking about contending for a national championship, as he often did in the past, he is painting a more realistic picture for the 2003 season and he's talking about much more than just football.
The coach said he expects a veteran defense to be the team's strength, repeating that defenses win championships, and he likes the offensive potential. But just as he's stressed with his team, Bowden said chemistry will be critical if the Seminoles are going to excel against another brutal non-conference slate and with the ACC stronger than ever.
He's expressed great displeasure with two things, one booster said. Lousy chemistry and negative press (coverage).
It should come as no surprise that Bowden said last season's talented team was one of the worst two he'd ever coached when it came to chemistry. There were too many individual agendas and not the kind of cohesion that can get a team through a trying season.
While internal problems festered throughout, the dismissal of quarterback Adrian McPherson, the suspension of quarterback Chris Rix for the Sugar Bowl and the arrest/suspension of defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for his discounted shopping arrangement were just too much to overcome. Last month's arrest of defensive tackle Travis Johnson on a sexual battery charge was another blow. To make matters worse, Stephen Bowden, Bobby's oldest son, recently entered a guilty plea on a federal securities fraud charge, after he was accused of bilking millions of dollars from investors, including 1.6 million of his father's money.
Collectively, those events and the subsequent three-month gambling investigation centered around McPherson led to a great deal of negative publicity for FSU.
He's angry (with the media), the booster said of Bowden.
Bowden apparently feels as if he's been boxed in by the media, and he has been constantly second-guessed and even ridiculed for losing control of his program. He likened the negative press to the media coverage of the War on Iraq, where embedded reporters and retired generals serving as studio analysts once were questioning every move of the U.S.-led forces.
We have leaders, Bowden said, spending more time defending what they're doing than doing what's right.
Florida-based columnists have called for the firing of FSU officials ranging from athletic director Dave Hart to compliance boss Bob Minnix to football administrator Andy Urbanic, and they have intimated that Bowden should retire.
Bowden, meanwhile, hunkered down in a bunker, preparing for a fight. Not only did he close spring practice for the first time in 28 years, he also said he'll close FSU's locker room after games this fall for the first time.
Those (media) guys have a job to do, Bowden said. I don't have to like it. He went on to tell a small group of FSU supporters that, the days of me cooperating with them are over. They're not tough enough to run me off.
These are certainly the most uneasy days around the FSU athletic department since the 1994 Foot Locker scandal. The January arrival of new university president T.K. Wetherell, who promptly axed or re-assigned a number of administrators in other departments, has left Hart and his staff feeling a bit uneasy.
Wetherell, a former FSU football standout and a member of the school's Hall of Fame, is a big supporter of Bowden and undoubtedly will stand behind the coach. But he already has assigned someone to evaluate how the athletic department goes about running its daily operation. The results should be available shortly.
For his part, Hart has made it a point to keep the new president in the information loop on all topics. Consequently, the athletic department is deferring all questions about its gambling investigation and the results of the police investigation to the president's office. Aside from a few delicately worded statements issued through the university's public relations office, Wetherell has declined to comment. The silence has hardly been comforting.
The gambling issue should come to a head when McPherson gets to trial, which is scheduled for the first week of June. In the meantime, McPherson's lawyer, Grady Irvin Jr. (an FSU law school grad, no less), has been slinging mud at the program. Though neither McPherson nor Irvin has much credibility remaining after earlier comments to the media proved false, that hasn't prevented them from suggesting that there's trouble ahead for FSU.
Among his charges, based on unnamed sources, Irvin has said: (1) athletic administrators will be fired, (2) Bowden will not coach beyond the 2003 season and (3) prominent athletes have been given cash, backed by boosters, for autographed goods. Of course, Irvin also said McPherson has never gambled and wasn't responsible for forging a stolen check and receiving the cash. On those points, the state of Florida has plenty of evidence to the contrary.
The entire mess turned Bowden's normally upbeat spring tour into something far less enjoyable, and it made some wonder how much longer the 73-year-old legend wants to put up a fight.
Hoops Class: Better Than Football?
Has there ever been a year when Florida State's basketball signing class was rated higher than its football signing class, at least during Bowden's tenure?
Up to this point, the answer has been no, although that may change soon. Entering May, Leonard Hamilton's second hoops class had a legitimate chance at cracking the top 10 if the Seminoles could land either of the two most prominent post players still available in the prep ranks: Alexander Johnson or Linas Kleiza. FSU was a finalist for both.
According to PrepStars.com and ACC Sports Journal recruiting guru Brick Oettinger, the Seminoles already ranked among the top 25 programs in the country with their three early signees: Von Wafer, Diego Romero and Antonio Griffin. That trio alone elevated FSU into a tight pack of five ACC teams.
I don't think anybody in the league did great, Oettinger said, lumping Maryland, Duke, FSU, Virginia and Wake Forest together. I would say by the tiniest of margins, Maryland would have the best ACC recruiting class. Florida State would be right up there at the top, if you add one the caliber of those two guys.
Despite some late interest from North Carolina and others, Kleiza reportedly narrowed his choices to Missouri and Florida State. Johnson, who prepped this year in Maine but hails from Albany, Ga., listed the Seminoles with long-time favorite Cincinnati and late-comer Connecticut. Albany is a 45-minute drive from Tallahassee.
FSU's remaining scholarship status certainly can accommodate one of the two power forwards, and there is even a possibility that the Seminoles could take both. The eight part of the NCAA's five/eight rule no more than five signees enrolled in one year or eight in any two-year period doesn't come back into play until next year's signing class, so last year's five signees are irrelevant for 2003 purposes.
Should the Seminoles fail to land either big man, Mike Mathews will be brought back for a fourth season of eligibility, providing he graduates (as expected) this summer. Mathews enrolled at FSU as a partial qualifier, sat out his first year under the NCAA rules in effect at the time, and has played the last three seasons.
If the Seminoles can reel in either Kleiza or Johnson, they almost certainly would jump to a top-10 national ranking, narrowly edging the football program if not for the first time, then for the first time in a very long time.