Imagine this: your boss signs a contract with your assistant, promising them $5 million if they don’t have your job come January 2011. Then your bosses give your assistant, who has already been designated as your successor, the authority to make staff decisions while you’re still there, even though you’ve said nothing about leaving yet. What would you think of that? I’d think they wanted to get out. Well, Florida State did just that with Jimbo Fisher, Bobby Bowden’s assistant and head-coach-in-waiting. Fisher gets $5 million if he’s not the FSU head coach come January 2011. In other words, he’s going to be the head coach come 2011. The only question remaining is whether Bowden will get fired or will be allowed to retire.
This is the dilemma that faces any program with a living legend as a head coach: no one lives forever, and as your icon hits 60 years of age, then 65, then 70, if he doesn’t want to leave you have a problem. Recruiting, the lifeblood of success in college sports, just isn’t something that older coaches feel like doing. So you either have to get a hotshot recruiter as an assistant (which leaves you up the creek if they leave for another gig), or else their recruiting will be limited. So just fire the guy if and when he falls off, right? Not so easy. Because unless you can get a younger coach with an equally big name to replace him, you could be in real trouble.
You see, some programs have a legacy of greatness. Florida has been good forever, as have Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, and a few other schools. A good coach like Urban Meyer can show up with a rep for being good at what he does but no personal championship legacy and keep the show going. But Florida State, on the other hand, was just another decent program before Bobby Bowden showed up. They’ve already slipped back to that over the past five or seven or eight years with Bowden, but it could get worse without him. That’s enough to scare the powers that be away from firing him outright. They really want him to retire or ‘retire’ so that they can give him the ceremonial goodbye he’s earned, but so far he doesn’t want to leave. Letting him stick around for another four or five years could hurt the program, but firing him could hurt more in terms of lost reputation.
But let’s not get it twisted; Bobby will be out, either after this season or after the next. Let’s hope that he gets the retirement sendoff he earned, and not some forced firing.