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Even Amidst Retirement Talk, Bowden Fosters Stability At Florida State

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACCSports.com
February 16, 2004 TALLAHASSEE —Coaching stability may have seemed an odd thing to pitch to Florida State football prospects on the recruiting trail this season. Bobby Bowden is 74 years old, in the twilight of his coaching career. It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that he'll be the head coach of the Seminoles when members of the 2004 freshman class become fifth-year seniors in 2008. But after feeling the ill effects of losing top offensive (Mark Richt) and defensive (Chuck Amato) aides three and four years ago, respectively, Bowden is again in familiar territory. Six of FSU's nine full-time assistants are entering at least their 10th year with the Seminoles. No program in the ACC, and few nationally, can come close to such continuity. Assistant head coach Billy Sexton, who handles running backs, will enter his 28th season in Tallahassee this fall. Associate head coach Mickey Andrews, who generally is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators at the college level, is going into his 21st year. The FSU lineup under Bowden also includes offensive line coach Jimmy Heggins (19th), offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden (11th), defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins (11th) and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator John Lilly (10th). “I think it begins with Coach Bowden, No. 1,”Andrews said. “He delegates responsibility and expects you to do your job. It begins with that, and the harmony we have on the staff has a lot to do with (the coaching stability). “We probably have as much fun coaching together as any group I've been around. We're always hitting on each other. We'll fuss about things, but when we come out of a meeting we're all together. When you talk about chemistry with the football team, you've also got to have it as a staff. It's probably about as strong as it has been in a long time. And when you have a relationship like the one we have here, it's hard to break it up.” Most recently, the newest member of the FSU staff, popular first-year linebackers coach Kevin Steele, underscored Bowden's ability to keep his assistants. When an NFL team came knocking with a lucrative offer to take over as defensive coordinator, Steele politely closed the door. Steele also was tied to recent openings at Nebraska, a former employer, and at Texas, where Mack Brown tossed around large dollar figures during his latest search for a defensive coordinator. At first glance, each of Steele's choices looked like a no-brainer —in favor of leaving the Seminoles. Most position coaches want to be a coordinator some day. Most of those who, like Steele, have been a coordinator before want another chance. Coordinators generally get paid more money, often a lot more money, than position coaches. NFL jobs generally pay significantly more money than their equivalents at the college level. Believe it or not, the best professional coordinators now can make $1 million per year. The assistant coach with the highest salary in the ACC last season was Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who had a base of $225,000. (Most college assistants supplement their base salaries with various bonuses, which lift the total packages of other ACC coordinators into the $200,000-$300,000 per year range as well.) The NFL also offers a lucrative pension plan for coaches who put enough years of service into the league. At FSU, Andrews is a fixture at defensive coordinator. His base salary last year was $173,429, second only to Tenuta among ACC assistants. At $140,000, Steele had the seventh-highest base salary in the conference, the second-highest (behind N.C. State assistant head coach Doc Holliday) among non-coordinators. Like many college programs, the Seminoles also are well-known for structuring their coaches'deals so that their total compensation is significantly more than the salary figures they're required to report under state laws that affect all public institutions. But even considering the likely supplements to his income, Steele clearly could make more money as a coordinator somewhere else, with either a big-time college program or at the NFL level. The offers came in January, as they have for so many FSU assistant coaches over the years. Yet Steele stayed, just as so many of his predecessors decided to stay. “You have a chance to win it all here, and we have a good camaraderie,”said Steele, whose resume includes Baylor head coach, Nebraska linebackers coach and Carolina Panthers assistant. “We have a lot of fun. No little cliques. It's a good place to come to work every day, and everybody knows each other's personalities and we have space. To say (Bowden) is a strong Christian man, a winner and good person and funny, and that's your boss, that is huge. Coach Bowden is very much a guy who gives you a job and lets you do it, but he knows what you're doing. “This is a great town to live in. I've got a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, and moving a six-year old is not hard. Their best friend is whoever is next in line at the slide. But once you get them in high school…” “Kevin had a chance to take a big one, and he liked it here,”Bowden said. “And we've had others in that situation through the years. I think Florida State is a great place to coach, and this is a wonderful area to live.” In recent years, Andrews, Lilly and Sexton were among the other FSU assistants who were offered appealing jobs elsewhere. Andrews turned down the NFL's Tennessee Titans, and Lilly and Sexton passed up opportunities to follow Richt to Georgia. Overall, FSU has lost just seven full-time coaches since 1986, including three —Amato (N.C. State), Richt (Georgia) and Brad Scott (South Carolina) —who left for head coaching jobs in either the ACC or SEC. All coaches left for a promotion, either in title or salary or both. With the exception of Joe Kines, who left last spring for the defensive coordinator position at Alabama, the minimum stay at FSU among the departing coaches was eight years. For a stark contrast, consider this: In the pre-expansion ACC right now, there are only three coaches who have been at their current schools for the last eight seasons. Fred Chatham has been an assistant at Duke in various capacities since 1989, serving under head coaches Steve Spurrier, Barry Wilson, Fred Goldsmith, Carl Franks and now Ted Roof. Ken Browning has been an assistant at North Carolina for 10 seasons, under Mack Brown, Carl Torbush and John Bunting. Scott Brown has been the defensive line coach at Duke for the last eight years. None of the other 69 full-time ACC assistants meets the eight-year standard. “That stability on our staff over the years has been as important as anything,”Bowden said. “Down through the years, that's one of the big pluses and advantages over other schools —keep our staff. It's just so important in developing the program and the kids you bring into the program.” Proof of that came in January 2001, when FSU's coaching stability was shaken a bit. Bowden said goodbye to offensive coordinator Richt, who became Georgia's head coach after the 2001 national championship game in the Orange Bowl. Richt's move followed the January 2000 departure of Amato to N.C. State, after 18 years under Bowden. The Seminoles lost nine games during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, more defeats than they had suffered over the previous seven seasons combined. While Bowden was reluctant to place the blame on the coaching changes that allowed his son Jeff to become FSU's offensive coordinator, he admitted it takes time for the staff and players to re-adjust. “It's why I always say having been able to keep our staff like we have is so important,”Bowden said. “You just can't jump in there as a new guy and pick up what that other person knew and took with him. It took Mark Richt time, and (former FSU offensive coordinator) Brad Scott before him.” Florida State's assistant coaches long have pointed to Bowden's management style as an attraction. Although criticized by some in the media for not being in control of his program, Bowden has the right grip on his players and coaches in the eyes of his aides. Quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey said Bowden's handling of his coaches is known throughout the college football world, and he often fields inquiries from friends regarding any possible openings on the FSU staff. “From my experience, you really have to be careful who you coach for,”said Dickey, a former Presbyterian head coach and son of former Tennessee/Florida head coach Doug Dickey. “He knows when to push the right buttons and when not to.” After beginning his coaching career at small colleges, where he did everything from coaching to overseeing equipment and even medical care, Bowden believes in spreading out the duties at Florida State. “I do let them coach,”Bowden said. “I've always believed, and it's in my book on leadership, the key to success is hiring good people and having sense enough to leave them alone. A lot of people want to hire them and tell them how to do the job.” Of course, money also has played a role in keeping the staff together, especially in recent years. Just two FSU staff members made six-figure salaries immediately following the departure of Richt. Two months later, in the spring of 2001, only recruiting coordinator John Lilly didn't make at least $100,000. Last year the only exceptions were Lilly and second-year defensive ends coach Jody Allen. While the FSU assistants'average base salary of $113,395 a year ago ranked just fifth in the ACC, several league sources said the Seminoles'average annual compensation package (unlike the salaries, that info is not made available publicly) always ranks first or second in the conference. The latter number, which coaches and administrators consider a more accurate reflection of a school's commitment to football, includes yearly merit bonuses and other non-guaranteed income. “We've had coaches who had opportunities to leave this year and turned down jobs and sometimes for more money,”Andrews said. “While the financial aspect is important, there are other things that are mighty important, too. Who you are working with, what is best for your family and things like that.” Another factor may be that when a full-time coaches leaves Tallahassee, he knows he does so for good. Bowden has never re-hired a full-time coach during his 28 years with the Seminoles. Former FSU linebackers coach Wally Burnham, now at South Florida, wanted to come back but wasn't re-hired when the linebackers job came open twice since his departure. Richt and Dickey were part-time coaches when they left the first time. Dickey took over coaching the quarterbacks in 2001, when Richt became Georgia's head coach. “When you get to a situation where you are able to say that you've worked for coach Bobby Bowden, that's something not to be taken lightly,”Dickey said. “And I did that one time. I am one of the very fortunate few who had a second chance. And I'm not going to let that go again.” Steele said he once found a similar experience at Nebraska, where much of Tom Osborne's staff was with him for many years. “I used to think there is no place like Nebraska —you'll never find that again,”Steele said. “Well, I did. But there are just not many places like Florida State anymore.” —Florida State football beat writer Steve Ellis of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat also contributed to this report. Officials: Happy Valentine's Day? GREENSBORO —Perception became reality in the world of ACC basketball earlier this season, at least for one game, although nobody in the mainstream media was able to document it. There was a familiar —and understandable —explanation for the underground nature of the story: Nobody who knew anything about the situation was willing to talk about it on the record. Brace yourself for this one: Ted Valentine, the flamboyant and often controversial official who already has had two highly publicized run-ins with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt this season, was switched from his scheduled assignment in the Yellow Jackets'Jan. 31 home date with Duke. Valentine instead worked the North Carolina-Clemson game, held on the same day, with Les Jones and Ray Natili. Meanwhile, Reggie Cofer, Steve Gordon and Karl Hess ran the show for the Blue Devils and the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. According to sources, the intriguing Valentine switch was not requested by Hewitt, who (like all ACC head coaches) has the power to ask that specified referees be removed from his games. Instead, sources said, the decision came straight from the league office. Apparently, conference officials were concerned about how Valentine might have been received in an already-hostile Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where —especially in a spotlight matchup with the highly ranked and hated Blue Devils —one questionable call or showboating move from a referee can send the crowd into a frenzy. Tech fans don't often stoop to the level recently seen at Maryland and other places, but they're more than capable of getting out of control in a high-pressure environment. Given the magnitude of the recent Duke-Tech game, and the obviously strained relationship (see previous issues of the Sports Journal) between Hewitt and Valentine, the ACC's assignment switch probably was a wise move. Especially in retrospect, it may have been a brilliant move. It was a shame that nobody could give Fred Barakat the credit he deserved on this one. As it worked out, the overwhelmingly pro-Tech crowd in Atlanta cursed Duke guard J.J. Redick throughout pre-game warmups, delivered another audible curse during the national anthem and twice had to be warned about throwing things on the court. The Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils played a very physical contest, with one chaotic melee and another near-ugly kicking incident. In the scrum, four technical fouls were assessed, and Tech forward Robert Brooks was ejected for coming off the bench. Under some very difficult circumstances, the three referees at the Duke-Tech game handled everything that came their way about as well as could have been expected. At the same time, the ACC certainly doesn't want to start a trend in this regard. Will the league allow Valentine to work Tech's home games only if they are less important, or only if they are against lesser competition? In the short run, that might work out fine. Over the long haul, though, any official who needs to be kept away from certain venues and at least one very reasonable coach might be better off working somewhere else.

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