November 30, 2004
TALLAHASSEE The swirl of speculation regarding potential changes in Florida State's football staff is coming with the regularity and force of the hurricanes that pounded the state this fall.
Publicly, Bobby Bowden has refrained from saying changes are imminent, though he's certainly hinted at the possibility with comments such as, "I think I know what's wrong with the offense," and, "If I make changes, I won't tell you all."
Based on Bowden's history of making staff changes, they will be handled very privately. Depending on whom you speak with, Bowden has dismissed or encouraged to move along only three or four assistants in his 29 seasons at the Tallahassee school.
Of course, the one assistant in the crosshairs of the fans' ire shares the same last name as the head coach. Offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden has incurred the brunt of the criticism for an offense that ranks as one of the worst in his father's FSU career.
The Seminoles (8-3) averaged 24.7 points and 364.7 total yards (149.4 rushing, 215.4 passing) a game during the regular season, while converting a nation-worst 22.1 percent of their third-down attempts. Only two FSU teams under the elder Bowden's watch have averaged fewer points (21.8 in 1981, 18.6 in 1976). The total offense average is the fourth-lowest in his tenure and the worst since 1981 (349), and no team has converted on third down at a worse rate.
FSU's offensive numbers mark the bottom of a four-year downward spiral with Jeff Bowden calling the plays. A year-by-year look tells the story of an offense that appears to have lost its way. In 2001, the Seminoles (8-4) averaged 33.9 points and 426.1 yards. A year later, FSU went 9-5 while slipping to 30.6 points and 398.1 yards. Modest improvement was made last season (10-3), when the team put up 32.2 points and 403 yards a game.
But if you're looking for a true pattern, FSU's inability to sustain drives has become a troubling trend. The precipitous decline in third-down conversion percentage cannot be ignored, nor as easily explained as the elder Bowden is wont to do. From 45 percent in 2001, the Seminoles' conversion percentage slipped to 38 and 33, before hitting an embarrassing low this season (22.1). That's nearly a 205-percent decline.
In light of the declining returns on offense over the past four seasons, FSU fans are drawing comparisons between the Seminoles' struggles and the plight of bygone powers Penn State and Nebraska.
Bobby Bowden has gone to great lengths to defend not shield his son, and for good reason. Jeff Bowden's run as coordinator has coincided with the careers of inconsistent quarterback Chris Rix and quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey.
Couple those factors with FSU's history for scaling back the offense in the aftermath of defeat, and there are plausible explanations for the decline. The Seminoles have lost 15 games over the past four seasons, second only to the 16 defeats suffered from 1981-84.
Where, exactly, that leaves Bobby Bowden in correcting the problems is open to speculation, and there's been no shortage of it. Despite rumors that Jeff Bowden will leave the program, it seems more likely that change will come at the quarterbacks and offensive line coach spots.
A reunion with Tennessee Titans assistant George Henshaw, who once served as an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator with the Seminoles (1978-82), could happen. Henshaw is the father of FSU tight end Matt Henshaw.
That still would leave an opening for a quarterbacks coach, a key component in correcting the offensive problems. Sophomore Wyatt Sexton has shown promise but not yet proven he's the future at the position. With heralded freshmen Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee anxious to get a crack at the job, getting someone on board capable of developing talent is critical.
Perhaps more important than personnel moves, the Seminoles must re-gain the offensive confidence and swagger that made them perennial national powers. FSU has lost both over the past four seasons.
Strong personalities in positions of authority are important. So is the autonomy that former offensive coordinator Mark Richt enjoyed in calling plays, something Jeff Bowden has never had, with his father heavily involving himself in the offense.
Important News: Steele's Staying
FSU linebackers coach Kevin Steele found himself in the middle of rumors involving new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. A South Carolina native who happens to have the same agent (Jimmy Sexton) as Spurrier, Steele was said to be headed to Columbia as the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator.
While one media outlet published without indicating a source that Steele would be headed to Columbia, he quickly dispelled the rumors. In a statement issued through the FSU media relations office, he said he planned on being with the Seminoles for a long time.
Steele said he was never contacted officially by USC officials, but everyone understands the back-channel discussions that often take place with college football coaches, and his decision to stay at FSU was huge. In two years, he's quickly established himself as an influential recruiter and has become extremely popular with the players.
His loss, given the pending changes on the offensive staff, may have created the kind of staff turnover that would have been hard for the Seminoles to overcome.
Basketball: Veterans Started Slowly
FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton is working feverishly to find the right combinations in an attempt to get his re-tooled team on track. Unfortunately, Hamilton's veterans didn't make that task any easier in November.
With five first-year players in the program, Hamilton needs some stability from a handful of vets, especially sophomore center Alexander Johnson, junior point guard Todd Galloway, sophomore guard Von Wafer and senior forward Adam Waleskowski.
Galloway, Wafer and Waleskowski offered the Seminoles about what Hamilton expected in the early going, but Johnson was a major disappointment. Sidelined by a hamstring injury for the two weeks of practice leading up to the season opener, Johnson was mostly a non-factor as the Seminoles started 2-2 in embarrassing fashion.
Johnson's conditioning level (like last season) has been poor, his hands worse and his work on the boards underwhelming. His inability to get on track in the early going lessened the impact of junior forward Diego Romero as the high-post option the Seminoles had coveted since Hamilton's arrival in Tallahassee.
Romero has helped get the ball inside, but his teammates just aren't finishing around the basket. That has put more of a burden on FSU's trio of freshman guards: Isaiah Swann, Ralph Mims and Jason Rich.
Hamilton had hoped to bring the backcourt bunch along slowly, building their minutes in time for the start of the ACC season in January. But with the inside game floundering and the offense bogging down, the coach began to give the group more meaningful minutes.
In the long run, the added experience early on could pay dividends. It will have to, because the Seminoles already have suffered costly non-conference losses, to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Kent State. Those were wins FSU needed to build a rÈsumÈ that would put them in the NCAA Tournament hunt.