The Retiring or Forced Out Debate – Deciding When It’s Time to Move On

December 3, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that a coach with a long and impressive history should be able to decide his own exit from the game, regardless of his recent effectiveness, and Babe Ruthless’ argument that an ineffective coach should be forced out, regardless of his tenure within the position.

It is the end of an era at Florida State. Since 1976, the Seminole football program has been led by one man – Bobby Bowden. Following a season that started with promise, only to end in disappointment, Bowden has “decided” to announce his retirement.

During Bowden’s legendary tenure at FSU, he was responsible for leading his football program to 12 Conference championships, two national championships (in 1993 and 1999), and he will make his curtain-call at his 29th CONSECUTIVE bowl game! It SHOULD be a remarkable end to an illustrious career, but unfortunately the reason for Bowden’s exit from the game has marred what would have otherwise been the celebration of an illustrious career.

Bowden was the very symbol of college football success during the 1980s and 1990s. During that time, his Seminoles finished 14 consecutive seasons ranked as a top-five team in the nation, with those two national championships as icing on the cake. His teams also set an NCAA record during that span by winning 11 consecutive bowl games. In 2004, however, Florida State began to disappoint the Seminole fans. At least, the team disappointed by Bobby Bowden standards.

Two thousand and three marked the last season that Florida State would finish a season with at least ten wins, and although the program has not finished with a record worse than 7-6 since that time, the Seminoles have clearly seen a drop in stature. They have not finished better than 15th in the nation, and actually closed the 2006 and 2007 seasons unranked.

Upon the conclusion of the 2007 season something very interesting happened. Bowden’s offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, was appointed as the “head coach-in waiting,” having been officially declared Bowden’s successor, although Bowden had given no indication that he was ready to retire. On one hand it was a wise decision because Bowden, who was 78 at the time, was likely to retire sooner rather than later. Instead of waiting for him to make the decision and then scrambling to find a suitable replacement, FSU was able to plan for the inevitable changing of the guard. On the other hand, it created a potentially tenuous situation. While Bowden would officially remain head coach of the team, everyone knew it was Jimbo Fisher who would eventually be calling the shots.

The situation reached a boiling point during the 2009 season. Following comments made by a university trustee after the Seminoles lost to Boston College on October 3rd it became clear that the school’s boosters were intent on seeing Bowden replaced at the end of the season. As the remaining weeks of the season played out, many people (including Bowden’s wife, Ann) began to develop the impression that Bowden was being forced out of Florida State.

The controversy created a very difficult situation for Florida State. On one hand, they had a legendary coach who had brought and sustained the highest level of success to the school for a very long time. On the other hand, that coach failed to live up to expectations over a lengthy period. After setting the bar very high during his tenure, he ultimately reached a point where he was no longer able to live up to those standards of excellence. If only they had called The Sports Debates for a little guidance…

When a tenured and one-time highly successful coach demonstrates an inability to regain that success, should they still be permitted the license to orchestrate their own exit, or is the school right to force the issue by replacing the coach – regardless of their legacy?

In addressing this question, Sports Geek will argue that the coach has earned the right, over a long and prestigious career, to exit his position under his own terms. Babe Ruthless will argue that the school has the right to force a coach out to preserve its interests TODAY, rather than sacrifice them at the price of success from years past.

While it may be too late to help Florida State out, I am sure that Joe Paterno will be following this debate with rapt attention!

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The Retiring or Forced Out Debate – Never Can Say Goodbye… Or Can We?

December 3, 2009

Read the debate intro and the argument from Sports Geek against forcing out an established, long-tenured coach and leader.

Coaches are often allowed to hang around far too long because they are chasing some elusive record. The most spectacular example of this is the battle between Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden for the most all-time career wins in college football history.

Both coaches are old… really, really old (Bowden is 80 and Paterno is 82). Both coaches established respected legacies built upon winning records and national titles. Both coaches became the face of their respective football programs. But time catches up with everyone. Bowden’s legacy was the first to crack. Criticism mounting over Florida State’s underwhelming play, during the latter half of the current decade, led to his eventual retirement – which was officially announced earlier this week. But, the writing was on the wall much earlier. Bowden’s offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, was tapped as his successor in 2007. The sitautions should have indicated to Bowden that it was time for a change when his school picked his replacement while he was still coaching

Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions boast a more impressive record over the past few seasons, but it leaves one to wonder if the clock is ticking on JoePa’s tenure since he has received criticism for his coaching and recruiting. In 2006 an 80-year-old Paterno broke his leg after he took a helmet to the knee during a collision out-of-bounds, and folded like a cheap accordion. This begs the question, should a coach even be allowed to stay once they reach a certain age? Sure, some say that Joe Paterno wears a suit when he coaches so they can bury him right after the game, but does anyone really want it to come to that? If these venerable coaches should be shown the door, then certainly schools with lesser coaches have every right to do likewise.

Allowing an ineffective coach to avoid retirement because of tradition or sentimentality is not only wrong, but it messes with the natural order of the universe. Seeing as how I am facing the Sports Geek for the first time ever, I figured I might out-geek him with some nerd knowledge. The second law of thermodynamics states that everything moves from a state of order to disorder. In layman’s terms, everything breaks down. This is true of all matter, and the last time I checked coaches were still made of matter. Ergo, coaches breakdown. They deteriorate both physically and in ability right in front of our eyes (and according to my calculations, Lou Holtz is due to turn into a pile of dust in approximately 5, 4, 3, 2, …).

Sure, legendary coaches deserve our respect, but they do not have the right to dictate when it is their time to retire. Adherence to tradition out of fear of the future is foolhardy. American philosopher and founding father Thomas Paine once said of blindly following tradition, “We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat.” Similarly it is illogical to think no one can fill the shoes of our favorite coaches. We should not fear showing coaches the door when they start to slip. If the powers within a program believe they can do better with someone else coaching, I say go for it. Many, including yours truly, thought the Yankees would never find a replacement for legendary coach Joe Torre. But, low and behold, just two years after his somewhat forced departure the Yankees won their elusive 27th World Series Championship under the management of Joe Girardi.

Change happens. It is an unavoidable fact, but life goes on. The issue of when a coach should retire becomes distorted when viewed through the lens of team loyalty. Looking back on a coach’s legacy, it is hard to evaluate subjectively. But, we owe it to our team and our coach to be honest about the situation. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go!

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