December 2, 2002 TALLAHASSEE Throughout his career, Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden has been publicly ridiculed for being too lenient on disciplinary issues. I believe in second chances, Bowden said, when I can give them.
In the case of Adrian McPherson, Bowden had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to provide that second chance. McPherson was dismissed from the team after the university learned that he was being investigated and eventually charged for his part in the theft, forgery and cashing of a blank check from a local business.
FSU initially learned of a potential problem, from McPherson, on the eve of the Seminoles' game at N.C. State. However, the depth of the sophomore quarterback's involvement didn't begin to come clear until school officials began investigating the matter on Sunday.
By Sunday evening, FSU president Sandy D'Alemberte e-mailed the school's board of trustees to inform them that McPherson would be indefinitely suspended the following day. That suspension evolved into a dismissal when Bowden and other school officials, most prominently athletic director Dave Hart, decided that McPherson was being less than forthright with his version of events.
Here are the facts:
A blank check was taken from a local truck accessories store on Nov. 18. It was cashed later that day for $3,500 by a third party, Melvin Capers, a former high school teammate of McPherson's. McPherson admitted that he was in the store and did something wrong, although he stopped short of telling police that he stole the blank check from the store owner.
The stories for Capers and McPherson varied from that point. Capers claimed that McPherson filled out the check with Capers' name on it and instructed Capers to cash it because he didn't want to implicate the store owner. McPherson identified the store owner as an FSU booster. Capers said McPherson collected the money from him and gave him $30 to get something to eat. McPherson denies he ever saw any money from the transaction.
Under normal circumstances, the he-said he-said story likely would draw McPherson a suspension until the case was resolved. (McPherson was charged with felony grand theft and misdemeanor theft. Capers faces two felony charges.) However, there were too many unanswered questions for FSU officials, who remain vigilant (some say bordering on paranoid) since the Foot Locker scandal of 1993.
So why was McPherson really removed? Here are some of the reasons:
- Rumors about McPherson being involved in gambling surfaced in FSU's compliance office over the summer, sparking an internal investigation that failed to turn up any valid evidence.
- In light of McPherson's dreadful eight-for-20 performance in FSU's 17-7 loss at N.C. State, a fresh set of rumors began to circulate that the quarterback may have been paid to shave points or throw the game. Both accusations remain nothing but idle speculation at this point.
- The co-owner of the store where the check was stolen, Dale Acosta, has befriended a number of FSU players over the years. Although he is not a member of Seminole Boosters, he is an avid FSU fan, which the NCAA interprets as having an interest in the program. The school is interested in the closeness of Acosta's relationship with McPherson and any other team members.
- The store is co-owned by sons of a prominent Tallahassee booster, Ron Hobbs, who is a board member of Seminole Boosters, Inc.
- Though it is believed that McPherson was going to use the money to purchase new wheels for his Ford Expedition, there is no way of knowing where that money was intended to be spent, or if it was ear-marked to pay off a gambling debt or for something of a similarly sinister nature.
McPherson's lawyers have vehemently denied that the quarterback has gambled beyond an occasional card game, but that didn't prevent Hart from asking the player if he was involved in any kind of gaming. Despite the attorney's protests, Hart had every reason to ask the question for the sake of protecting the university.
According to sources, McPherson's indefinite suspension became a dismissal following a meeting with Bowden, who simply gave the promising young talent an ultimatum: Come clean on the stolen check incident now and pay the price (he likely would have been suspended until the court case was cleared), or subject yourself to a stronger penalty if you walk out without telling the whole story and more information comes to light. McPherson chose the latter route, and he paid for it.
I've never had (a case) like this, Bowden said. We did, really, what we had to do.
McPherson quickly charged FSU with turning its back on me and said he could never play for the Seminoles again. That's fine, because until school and law officials get to the bottom of the whole story, FSU would have no choice but to protect its interests and keep him out of athletic competition.
Meanwhile, shock was the initial reaction by FSU players, followed by anger directed at the coaches for what seemed to be swifter- and harsher-than-usual punishment for their popular teammate.
But by the time the Seminoles took the field and blasted No. 15 Florida 31-14, it had become obvious to many that the team had come together in the face of controversy once again. Undoubtedly, McPherson's disparaging remarks aimed at the coaches and his failure to show remorse or even concern for the teammates who went to bat for him did not sit well with some players.
Rix Moved By Career Reversal
Bowden never was concerned about Chris Rix's confidence heading into his second-chance start against Florida. After all, it was overconfidence believing he was able to do anything on the field that played a part in Rix losing his starting job to McPherson after the Notre Dame loss.
In the long run, Rix's error-free performance in the Seminoles' face-saving rout of the Gators may take a back seat to the larger lesson gained in the aftermath of his benching and resurrection in light of McPherson's dismissal.
If the chemistry is not good between the quarterback and the rest of the team, you're going to have a hard time succeeding, Bowden said. (Chemistry) wasn't as good as it is right now. Now, you've got to realize when you're winning, everything's OK.
While Rix had 194 passing yards (with two touchdowns) and 83 rushing yards against the Gators, he likely got the most satisfaction from the warm response he received from teammates and fans. At the end of the game, the entire situation the victory, the crowd noise, the hugs from teammates literally moved the young quarterback to tears.
I think he's really learned a lot about dealing with teammates, Bowden said. And I think they have learned a lot about him. I think they're totally behind him now. ... When you see a guy suffer, that makes you a little bit more compassionate toward him.
Coaches' Switch Paid Dividends
The timing of embattled offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden's move from the sideline to the press box, switching places with quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey, for the Florida game seemed odd. But it paid big dividends for both men.
FSU opened up in a four-wideout set out of the shotgun, Bowden's favored formation, and threw enough gadget plays and wrinkles at the Gators to keep them off-balance.
Jeffrey's a Bowden, Bobby Bowden said, proudly.
While Dickey prefers a more conventional attack, his sideline presence was invaluable in terms of keeping Rix's emotions in check. When the sophomore quarterback made an ill-advised, illegal forward shovel pass, Dickey was the first one in his ear. The fourth-quarter gaffe was probably the most obvious blunder in an otherwise steady performance that was hindered by four dropped passes.
In retrospect the win over Florida, at the end of a week muddled in controversy, may have been one of the most rewarding in Bowden's FSU tenure. Still, it was hard for the 73-year-old coach to fully enjoy a win his team desperately needed.
It felt like you're standing on the platform, Bowden said, you've got a noose around your neck ... and you get a pardon.