Bobby made FSU seem like a dream destination and Jimbo? Not so much

Of all the major college programs to find their football coaching position turned into a revolving door, Florida State is the last one you would expect.

The Seminoles finally reeled in Willie Taggart on Tuesday, completing their first full-scale coach search since Bobby Bowden came aboard in January of 1976. I know that sounds like a long time ago but you really want to know how long?

Bobby’s first FSU salary was $37,500 a year.

Former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden celebrates after defeating Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl’s 1993 national championship game. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

Jimbo Fisher, of course, was designated as the head-coach-in-waiting while serving on Bobby’s staff, making for an automatic transition in 2010 without a messy search. Now he’s gone to Texas A&M, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”

No wonder Bobby is so adored in Tallahassee, with a stained-glass image at the stadium and a statue out front. He built a lasting connection to FSU, one that couldn’t be severed despite many tempting offers to coach elsewhere.

In 1990 Alabama made an offer to Bowden but, after a few days of chewing on it, he declined.

“By that time, I felt like FSU was my school,” Bowden said in his book “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football.”

“No matter what I could have done as Alabama’s coach, it still would have been Coach (Bear) Bryant’s program. I could never have topped his accomplishment there.”

There’s a strong element of loyalty in there, but a bit of anxiety and humility, too. Other coaches positively burn with ambition, believing themselves capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere. Nick Saban, for instance, wasn’t afraid to take on the Bear’s legacy at Alabama. Jimbo didn’t shy away from following Bobby at FSU, either.

In his book Bobby also says he passed on offers from LSU and Auburn and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons through the years. He formally interviewed at Alabama in 1987, too, and was disappointed not to get an offer that time. Probably would have gone if he did.

There is no good way and no good time for a coach to leave one school for another, at least in the eyes of his former employer. Now Taggart is getting ripped at Oregon, where he coached for one season after upgrading from South Florida. If he ever left FSU for another job, we’d have a true gypsy, a modern-day Lou Saban, on our hands.

I’m thinking in all of this there will be a new wave of nostalgia for good ol’ Bobby.

Nobody cares now about the reasons that he stayed at FSU for 34 years, or about the close calls that almost took him away.

All that matters is that he stayed, and he never made it seem like some kind of sacrifice on his part.

In today’s climate, that is at once wonderful and weird.

[History says Dolphins can’t make playoffs from 5-7)

[Sean McVay overtakes Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano]

 

Because hiring Chip Kelly hasn’t been easy for Florida, nothing else about him would be either

If Chip Kelly doesn’t want to coach the Florida Gators, it’s better to find it out now.

That’s the only conclusion to draw from Friday’s Yahoo Sports report that the Gators have moved on from their top coaching candidate.

In this Monday, Dec. 28, 2015 photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired Kelly with one game left in his third season, dumping the coach after missing the playoffs in consecutive years. Kelly was released Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 just before the end of a disappointing season that began with Super Bowl expectations. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

No matter the reason, if it’s Kelly telling Florida no or Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin tiring of the mind games, this would have been another one of those bad fits that have combined to set the program back a couple of times now.

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to wait for official announcements from Florida or from UCLA, to see if Kelly will change his mind.

[Saturday update: Chip Kelly agrees to a five-year deal to become UCLA’s football coach]

That’s what happened in 2012 when he was all set to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach but decided at the last minute to stay at Oregon.

The following year he told the Philadelphia Eagles no, thanks, but he would be staying at Oregon. Then he changed his mind and went to the NFL anyway.

The guy burns bright, like a firefly, and isn’t always sure at any given moment what he truly wants for himself.

Bottom line, though, Kelly could have taken the Gators job last Sunday when Florida’s top brass came to see him in New Hampshire. He is not coaching anybody and has no reason to delay if this opportunity to run one of the college game’s most coveted programs was a top priority.

Because he didn’t, it shows that the thought of coaching in the SEC, of struggling to overcome Nick Saban and all the others, held no instant appeal.

Because he didn’t, it shows that Kelly has no appetite for operating in an environment where his ego and his powers might be checked by Stricklin, or his failures magnified by a hypercritical SEC fan base.

Because he didn’t, it proved that there are other candidates out there who are far more motivated to take on this task, men who wouldn’t arrive in Gainesville with an exit strategy already building in the back of their minds.

It’s a major disappointment for Florida to miss out on the rebirth that Kelly could have brought to the Gators’ offense. This major swing and a miss looks bad for the program, too, just as it looked bad when Jeremy Foley went shopping for Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan but wound up hiring Ron Zook when those two didn’t jump at the offer.

This job search won’t have a good ending, however, if there is conflict at the beginning.

Stricklin and Kelly either haven’t connected or haven’t yet, even though there has been ample time to do so. There’s no forcing it now. Just as importantly for the Gators, there should be no looking back.

The only way Kelly can truly destroy the Gators is by taking a job in the SEC. That’s why the best news now might be his quick introduction at UCLA, far, far away.

Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights

Some college football programs are consistently strong. Others are consistently overmatched. Then there is Central Florida, where thunderous mood swings are king.

Four years ago the Knights finished 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win. That was good enough for a school-best No. 10 ranking in the final AP poll.

Two years ago UCF was 0-12 and lost those game by an average score of 38-14. That was bad enough to get George O’Leary fired, seven bowl appearances and all.

CINCINNATI, OH – OCTOBER 07: Tre’Quan Smith #4 of the UCF Knights celebrates with Wyatt Miller after a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the first half at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Now it’s 2017 and the Knights have flipped the switch again. They are 4-0 and ranked No. 22, which is higher than the Gators and Seminoles. UCF leads the nation with a scoring average of 47.5 points per game and is building momentum for showdowns with South Florida and Navy, the other two American Athletic Conference teams in the AP Top 25.

Among the reasons to watch the Knights is redshirt junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith from Village Academy in Delray Beach. He leads the team with seven touchdown catches, including three in last week’s 51-23 blowout of Cincinnati.

Now here’s where it gets tricky.

The coach behind this latest turnaround is Scott Frost, who played quarterback on an unbeaten team at Nebraska and later called the plays for Oregon as offensive coordinator. Either one of those programs could come calling for him to be their head coach some day, just like Oregon came to get Willie Taggart from South Florida, and that could abruptly turn the Knights’ train around once more.

Best, then, to root for Nebraska to upset Ohio State this week. The Cornhuskers are a disappointing 3-3 under Mike Riley, who is 18-14 there overall. These are the times that have Nebraska fans antsy.

And these are the conditions that keep UCF fans antsy, too. Perpetually so, whether the team is flying or crashing.

[Even UM’s national title teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

[Mood swing for Gase, who enjoyed NFL-record scoring extremes at Denver]

[Is it possible that Derek Jeter has rarely even seen the Marlins play a game?]

Most got in free for college hoops’ inaugural title game, which was played in a stuffy, old campus gym

 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is kind of a big deal.

This year’s Final Four, for instance, will be played in the same Arizona stadium where Super Bowls and national college football titles games have been played, and no tickets will be left over.

The thing wasn’t always so enormous, however, or so special.

In 1939, the first year of the NCAA tourney, eight teams were in the field and the championship game was played in what seems like a closet by today’s standards.

Northwestern University’s original Patten Gymnasium, since demolished and replaced, was the site of Oregon’s 46-33 win over Ohio State that inaugural year. According to an old Chicago Tribune article, a crowd of 5,500 attended the game, with many of them getting in free.

James Naismith, basketball’s inventor, attended the game that night in Evanston, Ill. Everything else about the affair was extremely low key, with Northwestern’s athletic director even advertising the need for four extra-long beds to accommodate the taller players on the visiting Oregon team.

TV coverage? Not a chance, not even locally.

The other teams in the tournament field that year were Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova, Utah State, Wake Forest and Brown. Pretty cool to think that Villanova was in the first NCAA tournament and enters the 2017 version, 78 years later, as the defending champion.

For some time the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden was better known than the NCAA, and usually had better teams. There even were cases where teams played in both events.

As a result, the following oddities jump out from NCAA tournament history.

San Francisco has won more NCAA championships (two) than Ohio State or Michigan or UNLV or Syracuse (one each).

Loyola-Chicago and CCNY and La Salle and Holy Cross have as many (one each) as Georgetown and Marquette and Arkansas (one each).

Oklahoma A&M has as many (two) as Florida and Michigan State and North Carolina State.

[Expecting it to be the Zagnuttiest NCAA tournament of them all]

[Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to a healthier, happier life]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM in Rick Barry’s golden era]

And Oregon? They took that first NCAA title and haven’t scored one since. They’re a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region this week, however, with Iona and Creighton between the Ducks and the Sweet 16.

Anything can happen. Looking at the history of this quirky tournament, from its days on the back pages of the newpaper to billion-dollar TV contracts of today, just about everything already has.