September 20, 2004 TALLAHASSEE Quarterback Chris Rix and offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden are locked in a dead heat in the race for the title of least popular person in the Florida State football program.
That seems to be the only thing FSU fans can agree on these days.
Like Penn State's Joe Paterno and South Carolina's Lou Holtz, Bobby Bowden understands the buzz created by what most fans consider to be Example No. 1 of why so many companies and organizations have anti-nepotism policies.
That didn't stop Paterno and Holtz, who have much-maligned sons Jay and Skip on their respective staffs, and it wasn't going to stop Bowden.
"Joe and I do (talk) and naturally we talk about sons," Bowden said, breaking into the country song, Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys. "Don't raise him to be on your staff, either. When you hire your son, you know what's going to happen. Unless you play great offense every week, you know he's going to catch it. A lot of people are going to do it out of spite. A lot of people are going to direct it at me, but they like me, so they're going to get on his son."
When pressed to explain why he hired Jeff, who is in his fourth season as the coordinator, Bowden said: "Because I think it's the thing to do."
Whether or not it's fair to judge Jeff Bowden as a coordinator at this point is open to some debate, and it will remain so until Rix completes his eligibility this season. With 28 turnovers in his 11 losses as a fourth-year starter and an unprecedented 0-5 record against Miami Rix has had a career marked by mental meltdowns.
Bowden has attempted to deflect some of the blame from his son, explaining that the offensive staff merely is carrying out his wishes, but most choose not to believe that. They've heard it before, when he used to come to the defense of former coordinator Mark Richt, now the head coach at Georgia.
"I lost some friends over Mark Richt," he said.
Based on internet message board strings, boos cascading from the stands and letters landing on his desk, Bowden hasn't had much success building support for his son.
While Holtz stripped Skip of play-calling duties prior to this season, and Paterno still handles most of the play-calling decisions in Happy Valley, Bowden continues to stand behind Jeff.
"There are success stories, too," Bowden said. "Look at the Stoops brothers. They hire brothers. Is that the same thing, or is it just for sons? Look at the success they've had."
Bobby Explains Clemson, Tommy
The hot seat is more like a (no)-love sofa these days for the Bowden family. Not only is Jeff taking a beating in Tallahassee, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is back on the front burner after the Tigers fell to 1-2 with a 27-6 loss at Texas A&M.
It wasn't exactly the kind of backdrop anyone in the family wanted for Bowden Bowl VI. A year ago, Tommy saved his job with a season-ending five-game win streak that began with a 26-10 win over third-ranked Florida State.
"He definitely would have lost it (his job) if I had won," Bobby said of Tommy. "They already had everything in place."
Instead of punching Tommy's ticket, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips was forced to pony up for a new contract. The elder Bowden said it was one of the few good things that came out of defeat.
"Tommy solved one of his problems last year when he got his contract structured so that it's hard to fire (him)," Bobby said. "You've got to have that. You can go to the beach if they fire (you). You nearly have to protect yourself like that because of the nature of our jobs."
In the wake of the recent Bowden family tragedy Bobby's loss of a grandson and former son-in-law (Tommy's nephew and former brother-in-law) the hope was that this season's Clemson-FSU game would no longer focus on the family.
Now that's impossible to imagine. Had the Tigers not pulled out an overtime win against Wake Forest in the opener, they would be winless heading to Tallahassee. As it is, Clemson will be hard-pressed to finish better than 6-5. So much for any momentum gained in the wake of last season's strong finish.
"Once they beat us, they get over a hurdle there," Bobby said. "I think there's a hurdle there, (that) until you beat Florida State you're not ready for the next step. And when you do beat Florida State, that still does not mean you're ready for the next step, but at least it means you're ready for the next step."
The Tigers have been unable to take that step to this point. The elder Bowden, whose team is fighting an uphill battle of its own following an opening loss at Miami, knows the Clemson administration will be keeping close tabs on his son. He fears one of two reactions.
"One is, 'no comment,' and that ain't good," Bowden said. "And the other is, 'you have our support,' and that ain't good either."
It's enough to ruin a family get-together.
Sexton: Popular, But Not Ready
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Wyatt Sexton may be the most popular player on campus these days. The backup to Rix, he received a standing ovation when he entered FSU's game with 13:12 to play in a 34-7 win over Alabama-Birmingham.
Unfortunately, Sexton has been getting few cheers from the FSU coaching staff, a group that has every reason to sit Rix down but lacks a strong one to replace him with the son of long-time running backs coach Billy Sexton.
Wyatt Sexton has a strong arm and is an honor student, but he has failed to curry the favor of the staff because of poor performances in practice. In particular, he has had a very difficult time getting away from the Seminoles' pass rush and/or making plays on the run.
After Bowden admitted that he and the coaching staff had considered a change at quarterback following the Miami loss, Sexton was late for a meeting and practice. That was hardly the kind of example the coaches were hoping to see. As a result, Sexton finished one practice pushing a 2x4 around the field as punishment.
On the field against the Blazers, Sexton showed enough promise to encourage Bowden, who said he saw some "good stuff" from the lanky right-hander. Sexton completed six of nine attempts for 47 yards and drove the Seminoles 70 yards to a field goal late in their blowout win.
Defense Renews Sack Tradition
Through two games, FSU's defense registered 32 tackles for loss, highlighted by its eight-sack performance against UAB. It was the most sacks for the Seminoles since they had eight in their 1998 win over Miami.
It should surprise no one that the Seminoles unleashed an assault on UAB quarterback Darrell Hackney that hadn't been seen in years. It came one night after two of FSU's top pass-rushing ends of all time Peter Boulware and Andre Wadsworth were inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, and just three days after former NFL star Kevin Greene (169 career sacks) stopped by at practice to visit with the players and his former position coach with the Carolina Panthers, Kevin Steele.
"That's tradition," said sophomore linebacker Ernie Sims, who enjoyed a big performance in his first career start. "That's what we want to bring back to FSU."