Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Florida State’s Bobby Bowden: Coaching Genius Or Not?


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By NoleCC

Bobby Bowden. What do you think when you hear those two words? Great coach? Great man? Good ol’ boy? Not in charge?

It depends.  Seminole fans, in general, cheer Bowden’s name when it’s spoken and they’re quick to tell you how great Coach Bowden is at what he does. They’ll spout off about what he’s built at Florida State University and how the football program was almost killed off 30 years ago because it was awful.  Nole fans are quick to come to his defense about anything other than his son Jeff Bowden, and most call him one of the best “closers” in recruiting to ever live.

But is he really a coaching genius like I’ve heard from a lot of fans, Seminole or not?

What defines a genius? Is it a statue? Is it a field named after him? Is it the amount of money brought in to a program or the amount of talent he can recruit? Is it an innovator is his field?

According to Wikipedia a genius “is a person of great intelligence, who shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work.” I can’t comment on Bowden in fields other than football, so basically the question that remains is does Bobby Bowden fit that definition on a football field?

No He Isn’t

He doesn’t use his roster well - How many QBs haven’t worked out at FSU recently? Xavier Lee, Adrian McPherson, Jared Jones… the list gets very long.  How many times has the 2nd string running looked better than the 1st string? How many times were slacking Wide Receivers given the job?

Over the years a few great college football players can make any man look like a genius. Chris Weinke was basically an extra coach on the sidelines. Charlie Ward was the best all-around athlete at FSU, and Peter Warrick was head-and-shoulders about his collegiate competition.  Many coaches could win a ton of games with talent like that.

His assistants did much of the work – Mark Richt and Brad Scott coordinated the best offenses in FSU history.  Richt has brought Georgia back into the national spotlight. Even a better point, when FSU lost an embarrassing BCS Title game to Oklahoma, it was Richt who didn’t have a backup plan for the 2nd half, evidently neither did Bowden.

He ran a very traditional offense - The I-Formation isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s flexible, and lets you take what the defense gives you. When times are tough, Bowden heads straight for it. Brad Scott realized and coaxed Coach Bowden into letting him use the “fast-break” with Charlie Ward, to showcase his talents and maximize the FSU offense. Bowden didn’t invent an entirely new offense, doing so would push him over the edge of genius immediately.

It’s always been Mickey’s Defense – Defense win championships, and Mickey Andrews has been in sole control of that unit forever. When the Noles are good on defense, they’re in a ballgame. Only 1 game immediately comes to mind when the offense bailed out the defense (Weinke vs. GT’s Joe Hamilton at Doak), whereas the defense has shut down teams in the 2nd half so many times I lose count. (Miami in 1999, Florida in 1998, Texas A&M in 1998, Ohio State 1997).

Yes He Is

The stats don’t lie – Football is a team sport, yes, but Bobby Bowden is the head of a dynasty that finished in the AP Top 5 for 14 straight years. That’s not easy to do, and it means your team won a lot of big games. It means, if nothing else you oversaw everything, handled all of the player “issues” that arise over a season and had Boosters and fans loving every minute of it, happy to open their checkbooks. Bowden’s success helped grow Florida State University as a whole. It’s a case of trickle-down economics actually working.

He’s bright enough to have brilliant assistants around him – Bowden, although not always at the direct helm of the offense or defense, is bright enought to hire guys that take care of business. The downfall of FSU Football in recent years, was because he didn’t admit that he hadn’t surrounded himself with the best available staff. Sorry Jeff, you might have been bright enough to get a big buyout, but you couldn’t run the offense like Mark or Brad (Jimbo is to-be-decided).

He designed some of the best trick plays use in college football - A genius innovates, and if there’s one spot that Bobby Bowden innovated it was trick plays that work. Puntrooskie? Check. Warrick Dunn throwing passes? Check. Peter Warrick lining up everywhere? Check.

Alright readers, I want to hear comments. This is meant to get a discussion going. I don’t argue that Bowden is a winner, a good man, or a good coach. But is he really a Football Genius? Did he just take advantage of also-bright coaches around him? Was he a genius in the 70s, 80s and not in the 90′s and 00′s? Leave comments, let me know!


20 Responses to “Florida State’s Bobby Bowden: Coaching Genius Or Not?”
  1. Bill From TampaNo Gravatar says:

    As you pointed out, arguments can be made for both sides. A genius? Probably not. He has not been much of an innovator for the game like other college coaches have been or even pro coaches. But he did get that rep as a Riverboat Gambler that paid off. Since then he has been more conservative. And while every coach has his flaws, and Bobby certainly has his, he has run his “company” pretty darn well. It’s hard for me to get past that 373 wins. Even though that is a product of his longevity, it’s hard to overlook that 14 year run that indicates to me that he must be at the very least a very good CEO.

  2. NoleCCNo Gravatar says:


    Good points all around. I must agree, I admire him most for surrounding himself with people “brighter” than him. It’s the sign of a good leader and good CEO.

  3. JordiNo Gravatar says:

    It’s the chicken and the egg dilemma. Was he a legend before the backing of the boosters or did the backing of the boosters make him a legend? Yes, he built the program. But with the talent in the state and the emergence of USF, was developing a powerhouse in Tallahassee that big of an accomplishment? Will USF’s coach be deified before he leaves? Now the problem is, there is no way FSU can get rid of Bobby on their terms. They have to cater to his. So good coach for getting the boosters on his side, bad coach for not going away sooner. And I say that lovingly, of course.

  4. RandyNo Gravatar says:

    I think I can fairly say that intelligence today is really slanted towards being able to fing the knowledge you’re looking for quickly and then making good use of it. Bobby certainly has not done that a lot recently. The offensive offense is a great example. We have had several players starting that weren’t the best qualified on the team to be starting. The fact that he allows these quarterback controversies to go on every year shows a definitive lack of genius. Bobby can see where he wants to go, but makes poor choices in how to get there. I can’t really even back up the recruiting issue any more. FSU can’t even keep local prep stars in town. They’re headed to Clemson and other once inferior teams, that have slowly out-recruited and in some cases, started out-coaching us. He at this point in his career serves as a nice figure head, much like the Queen of England. We can say we’ve still got him and that may be enough to impress some people, but I’m not one of them, and I never have been. I grew up in Michigan and watched a really genius, if only in my mind, Bo Schembechler. Bobby’s a good coach and FSU definitely wouldn’t be where it’s at as university without him, but like any gambler, sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time.

  5. Anonymous says:

    That was one of the most candid Bowden analyses I’ve ever seen. He’s a good recruiter, but he ain’t been a serious or innovative coach in a couple of decades. Plus, he’s gotten petulant in his old age.

  6. NoleCCNo Gravatar says:

    Good comments all around everyone, keep them coming.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Samll correction to the article– It wasn’t Brad Scott who designed the offense before Mark Richt– it was Wayne McDuffy. Wayne left after the 1990 season, and BS and MR ran his offense with experienced players for 2 more years, with mixed results. When Charlie Ward was flailing in that offense by the end of ’92, BS and MR followed a tip form the BBall coaches and put him in the gun to let him improvise. I literally laughed when USC hired Brad Scott, thinking he was the secret to our offensive success.

    As for Bobby being a genuis– I’m a long time Noles fan, but I’ve often wondered how ingenious he would have looked had uf and miami not gone on successive probations and allowed us to suck up much of the top talent in the state at will for about 10 years.

  8. g says:

    You are correct, it was not so much Brad Scott as it was McDuffy and John Eason (WR coach).

  9. Anonymous says:

    Moving to the state whose talent would increase the most in his 20 years? Check. Excellent weather in the state allowing for kids to be outdoors at all times? Check. Being in a top 3 talent state? Check. He is no genius. He’s no dummy either.

  10. RandyNo Gravatar says:

    You’re all wrong, it was actually Jeff as a teenager, getting plays from the old EA College Fottball pn the PS1. Who knew all these years later hitting X all the time woouldn’t work?

  11. NoleCCNo Gravatar says:

    Good comments all around! Anon #3774383 thanks for correcting me, you’ve exposed me as a fraud. Hahaha. Good to know about McDuffy and Eason, I guess the main point is still the same even though I blew the names.

    Randy… wouldn’t it be more like Tecmo Bowl for a child like Jeffery? :)

  12. RandyNo Gravatar says:

    That would explain the constant use of the Statue of Liberty play.

  13. g says:

    Ooooooooooooooooooooh, I thought JB got his playbook from Pong.

  14. ricowade80No Gravatar says:

    We sit and wonder if a coach is a genius or not? That is a phrase often over used like ” Put your game Face on” or “Swagger”. Every coach has a mind and he has to know how to use it. A coach can be given all the talent in the world but if you dont know how to use it then whats the point. With assistant coaches, as a head coach you have to be able to sit and recognize what it is that works and also if this person can make it work. We have had some good OC come through and MR is having success at georgia but it wasnt like georgia was exactly hurting before he got there. He came into a good situation where all it took was proper placement and thought of your personel. Bobby Bowden is not a genius of a coach but he is one hell of a evaluator of talent. Now, I know that last statment has the potential to blow up in my face but hear me out first. Lets look at the QBs that have come through after CW. Rix, wasnt a leader but was more than capable of playing the position. As a quarteback u have to see things and you have to be able to judge and obviously that is something that no OC can make up for. Adrain Mcpherson came in and played well in his brief starts but he was long gone before we could ever see what he was made of. He is no genius but really what head coach is at the collegiate level? Is pete carroll a coaching genius or having norm chow and players like bush, leinart, palmer, white, williams are just mere shades of luck?

  15. ricowade80No Gravatar says:

    Oh, I know I may get black balled for this comment but JB wasnt horrible at FSU, Look at the Emerald Bowl and the numbers he put in that game and also the sugar bowl when we lost to georgia, we had a nice plan but when ur starting qb is suspended and u have to move a reciver to qb what do u expect.

  16. kevdognolesNo Gravatar says:


  17. JT in Texas says:

    Your question genious! Bobby would not call himself a genious. This debet will be going on long after Bobby is gone, reason why. “Jimbo” is getting on the job training right now. The wins are going on Bobby’s record, but so are the losses! Bobby is looking at the future of the FSU program and the University. When Jimbo takes official control, let’s say he has a season such as “Saben” has had this year, everyone will say, FSU should have made this change years ago; ( Most first time head coaches fail ) Some will look back and say how smart he was for setting up the change this way; Thus genious. If it fails, everyone will say how dumb it was to do it this way, Thus not genious! I believe we should all just be thankful that we were blessed to have such a man touch so many lives, genious or not!

  18. kc5nole says:

    I agree with you Rico, regarding JB. But my theory is, a coach is only as good as his players are able to perform. If players cannot execute certain plays, then a coach is limited as to what he can call. Furthermore, how many of those losses (during JB’s era) could have been wins had it not been for one or two plays. Yes, there seemed to be some tendencies for conservative play, but can you blame him with a QB who was hit or miss? We are a spoiled group of fans. As for Bobby, I can’t believe we are discussing whether or not he’s a genius? Just look at the number of winning seasons. Then let’s count the number of programs that have had the same results under the same coach in a similar tenure, not very many. It seems that Bobby gets more respect from players and coaches then he does from some fans. Stop whining about whether or not he’s a genius, and start showing some real appreciation for what he has done for Seminole football.

  19. NoleCCNo Gravatar says:

    Success and genius are two different things kc5, that’s why I posed the question. It has nothing to do with being a fan of the team or of Bowden.

  20. NoleMercyNo Gravatar says:

    I was fortunate to begin following FSU just as Bowden arrived and I have had the time of my life rooting for FSU all these years. I’m not sure of genius is the correct term but his legacy as a major innovator in college football is a fact.
    How he was able to motivate a team that had won only 3 games in the past four years to believe in itself and rise to an undefeated season 4 years later could alone be called a work of genius. In those days Bowden had a trick play for each team we played and we would anxiously await when we would see the end around or flea flicker that would trun the tide. So beginning in his early years, we can look at some of his innovations.
    1. Perhaps the most infuential and underappreciated manuever Bowden began was deferring to the second half. He began doing this when Ron Simmons led the defense and was chastized repeatedly i nthe press and on TV for doing it. The thinking back then was you have an extra possesion in the game and it was ludricrous to give up that possesion. Bowden wanted the ball at the beginning of the second half because he felt that was the most crucial time to get that extra possesion. We don’t think much of it today because everyone does it now, but it was Bobby back in the 70′s who did it first.
    2. The deep slant was an innovation that Peterson brought in when Bobby worked on his staff, or it may have been Bobby who knows? But FSU has been running the deep slant since the 70′s and used it until Fisher came and shortened it to a three yard route.
    3 40Wham. Bowden used the innovation of of putting the tight end in motion then setting him on the inside of the tackle for a wider dive play at the goal line. That meant running away from the two tackles and the diving middle linebacker, but having the bulk to attack the perimeter.
    4. Let’s not forget the trick plays. This was the major reason FSU began to get TV exposure and eventually end up as a game of the week. From 78 when we saw a pass on a kickoff against Florida to the lateral on the punt against Nebraska, wide reciever pass vs OSU, pass to QB against ND, Bowden has always had a trick up his sleeves in the biggest games of the year. In the old days it was because he was evening up the talent gap against better teams, but even in the 80s when they had the talent: pass on kickoff vs Miami, puntarooskie vs Clemson, crocodile vs Michigan, 5 different QBs vs GT, receiver pass vs UF.
    One of the things we most missed about FSU in the 90s and 00s was the lack of innovative trick plays that Bobby was famous for. Our talent level, he said, made it unnecessary to take such chances, but my theory was that at that age he had seen more failures than successes; whereas, a young coach is going to try it.
    Add to all that that he was one of the most innovative gamesmen in college football. He and Schnellenburger put UM and FSU on the map with their promotions each year (who can forget the two in boxing gloves), getting TV to begin broadcasting their games. Osceola and renegade were Bowden’s attempt to add color and tradition to lure TV execs.
    His ability to close in recruiting provided us with watching some of the greatest talents in Florida for decades.
    Now, Bowden had a few not so good attributes as well:
    He seemed to doggedly stick with the best practice player being the starter, when we had several game players that didn’t necessarily practice well. Peter Tom Willis is the poster child, as a freshmen he set the freshman record for yards and touchdowns against SC when Ferguson was injured, but never played again until his senior year when he broke all the single season passing records. I’m sure you can think of a few QBs in the 00s that fit this category.
    But, his major achilles heel was clock management. The first wide right game was unnecessary as we had 47 seconds left in the game. The ref called that the RBs knee hit in bounds and kept the clock running. It wasn’t until there were 15 seconds that we called a time out and Bowden had to settle for a field goal. That is the prime example of it but it was a recurring problem in close games throughout his career.
    So I for one consider Bowden to be one the most influencial coaches of the 20th century.