Watching Florida State beat N.C. State on Thursday, a question popped into my head. Much like "Will you go to the prom with me?" this question that would have gotten me laughed out of the room in 1995 or 1996.
Who, in their wildest dreams, would have thought that Bobby would be the only Bowden left coaching?
Think back 12 years. Terry Bowden was two years removed from leading an on-probation Auburn squad to an undefeated record. Tommy Bowden had just taken over at Tulane, and in 1998 he and hotshot offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez would lead the Green Wave to a 12-0 record. Jeff Bowden was coaching a loaded FSU receiving corps that featured E.G. Green, Peter Warrick and Laveraneus Coles. The sons certainly seemed to enjoy the family business, and they looked poised to carry Bobby's legacy forward for a few decades. But just as 1996 darling Alanis Morissette never became her generation's Madonna -- that song about Dave Coulier gave us such high hopes -- the Bowden boys didn't take over the coaching world.
Terry has been out of football since he was railroaded at Auburn six games into the 1998 season. He's an excellent commentator, and many of his college football columns at Yahoo! and Rivals.com are downright fascinating. Want an example? Read this one from earlier this week, where Terry basically writes that older brother Tommy deserved to be shoved out at Clemson. Terry threw his name into the hat for the West Virginia job last year, but he's been out of the game so long, it may be too tough to come back at this point. And after watching Tommy twist in the wind at Clemson, would Terry really want to subject himself to that pressure again?
Jeff, meanwhile, ascended to the offensive coordinator spot at FSU when Mark Richt left for Georgia in 2001. After five years of finding ever more creative ways to get his team into a third-and-nine hole, Jeff accepted half a million bucks from Florida State's booster club to stop coaching.
If you've turned on a TV or radio this week, you know what happened to Tommy. Rather than get fired later, he stepped down Monday after a decade at Clemson with no ACC titles. He entered the season with lofty expectations, but after saving his job four consecutive years, he seemed sick of coaching with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. "It has been disappointing to be so close, so close," Tommy told me during a preseason visit to Clemson. "That'll only keep the wolves off for so long." Watching him explain his resignation, he almost seemed relieved.
Meanwhile, daddy keeps right on chugging. Bobby will turn 79 next month, and it seems that his Seminoles, after several down years, might be on the verge of turning the corner. We'll know more after the Seminoles face Virginia Tech next week, but FSU has an athletic defense and an offense that has found a way to score points despite a painfully young line. In a conference sorely lacking in elite teams, that could be enough to compete for a title. Bobby has promised to hand the reins to offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher sooner rather than later, but the elder Bowden still deserves some credit for the signs of life his team has shown in recent weeks. "Maybe this is the turnaround," Bowden told The Miami Herald after Thursday's 26-17 win in Raleigh. "We haven't won a lot of these kind of games lately."
Bowden didn't have to try to right the ship if he didn't want to. Two national titles and a 14-year run of top-five finishes had banked enough cachet in Tallahassee for him stay employed while his previous staff drove the program into the ground. But instead of letting it happen, Bowden made the choice two years ago to essentially dismiss his son and several longtime friends. It was the kind of tough choice a man must make to survive in a business that grows more cutthroat every year. And if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that Bobby is the survivor in the family.