TALLAHASSEE -- In the late 1980s and early ’90s, when Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was starting his coaching career at Samford under Terry Bowden, then-FSU head coach Bobby Bowden — unaware Fisher would eventually become his successor — told him, “ ‘Whenever I’m done, I’m going to get out of town because it’s not good for the head coach to hang around,’ ” Fisher recalled Monday.
“I think it may have happened to him one time, and it wasn’t good.”
If anything, Bobby Bowden is a man of his word, and nearly 25 years later, that promise — like so many others — has been fulfilled. On Saturday, Bowden will return to Florida State for the first time since the end of his coaching career following the 2009 season.
“Well I’m looking forward to it,” Bowden said on the phone Friday. “When I left I intentionally tried to stay out of the way. You know how it is when you bring in a new coach, everybody starts comparing him with the other guy. I didn’t want to do that so I’ll be making my first appearance there. … I’m looking forward to it.”
Willie Jones Sr. also will be anticipating it as part of a group of around 300 former players who will honor Bowden in a pregame ceremony in which the iconic coach will be planting the spear at midfield.
“The significance of it all in terms of where I’m sitting at, it’s bringing a person, a living person, a human person, back to … I’m kind of choking on my words right now,” Willie Jones Sr. said, pausing momentarily to collect himself.
“The way I see it, the university is taking the necessary steps to do right in a situation that — in a lot of our eyes — wasn’t done right.”
If you were looking for an example of the impact Bowden — whose career will be celebrated Saturday before FSU plays North Carolina State on the field that bears his name — has had on the lives of his players, it would be difficult to find a better one than the Jones family.
Jones, a standout at South Dade High School in Homestead, came to Florida State in 1975 to play one season for Darrell Mudra, before Mudra was replaced by Bowden.
At the time, Jones felt betrayed by school administration and was at odds with his new coach and the virtues he expected the team to live by.
“Be disciplined, be responsible, be accountable and do things right. That’s a problem that I had when he first came, but it didn’t last long,” Jones said. “I realized he’s got something special here and then all the players began to buy into it.”
After going 5-6 in his first season in 1976, Bowden’s Seminoles went 18-5 over Jones’ junior and senior years. And the 6-4, 225-pound defensive end blossomed, getting 17 sacks and being drafted in the second round, 42nd overall, in 1979 by the Oakland Raiders. Bowden called him “the best player in the country at his position,” his senior year. He was inducted into FSU’s Hall of Fame in 1988.
“When I came here in 1976, he was one of the best players on our football team,” Bowden said. “I think he was the first draft choice of the Raiders, and he went out there and I think was their rookie of the year and just had a tremendous athletic career. And we brought him in to coach with us and he coached for us for several years and also had three or four other jobs — Central Florida might have been one of them and then he went to Temple for a while. But I thought he had a good career.”