Paterno and Bowden

Two recent articles from couldn’t make the distinction between Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno more clear. The Bowden article is by Heather Dinich; the Paterno article is by Ivan Maisel.

Their Involvement

It’s more accurate to call it an FSU article than a Bowden article, since it is mostly about Jimbo Fisher slowly taking over the program. In any event, here is a quote from Bobby Bowden regarding coaching:

People say, ‘He can’t coach no more.’ Well, a head coach don’t coach. [The assistants] coach. They do all the coaching.

To illustrate Paterno’s involvement, I offer a couple quotes:

CB Willie Harriott: “How did he see my hand on his [the receiver’s] back from way over there?

Assistant coach Tom Bradley: “He’s still in every drill, coming around all over the same place. He doesn’t coach from a tower, you know what I mean.

Could he even climb a tower anymore?

Practice Behavior and Demeanor

Bowden: Sitting quietly in the stands watching his assistants run the practice.

Paterno: Literally kicking former guard and new center Mike Lucian in the rear for not being consistent in the shotgun snap.

Their Records

Bowden: He says he wants to finish with more than 400 career wins and take home another national title before quitting.

Paterno: “I don’t care about the record… You know when they bury you, you going to look up at your stone and say, ‘Hey, I got a record?’ You’re dead. You’re gone. I think there are other things that are more important.

Succession Plans

Bowden: Already underway, with Fisher doing the Seminole Boosters circuit and learning other aspects of the head coaching job while having the safety net of not being the head coach.

Paterno: His attitude is basically “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

* * *

They have similar ages and win counts, but that’s about it. They really are that different.

The reason why it’s so easy for Bowden to accept a succession plan is that he is a coach in the way that video game players are coaches. He runs the program, recruits high schoolers, and makes decisions, but when it comes to actually coaching players, someone else does it in the way that EA customers just choose the option of picking an outfit to “coach” during timeouts and seeing the results happen automatically.

He also does commercials, did I mention that?

The reason it’s so hard for Paterno to accept a succession plan is that he still is coaching the players. He’s teaching them technique, giving advice on how not to stare down receivers as a quarterback, and from across the field spying a cornerback putting his hand on a receiver’s back. He coaches everyone on the team, something Bowden has been quoted as saying is not a part of the head coaching job description.

FSU’s succession plan sounds like a great idea for easing the transition, especially since it’s so hard for Mr. Outside Hire to follow a legend at a program. Its transition program makes sense, unless FSU is actually ending up with only half an offensive coordinator as Fisher divides his time between his current and future jobs. After all, the Seminole offense actually was actually worse in Fisher’s first year as compared with Jeff Bowden’s final year.

That’s right – Jimbo’s first offense was worse than any of Jeff Bowden’s offenses.

Penn State, meanwhile, is asking for an extremely difficult situation by not keeping Paterno under contract past this year. PSU can only hope that the legend-following process there works like it did at places like Florida and BYU, where after a brief down period a sharp, young head coach came in and restored glory. The alternative could be like the unmitigated disaster that has been Alabama in the post-Gene Stallings era.

It’s impossible to say what will happen after each is no longer coaching his school. Neither program did anything of note before they got there, so there is nothing before them to base a judgment on. Even if Fisher or Paterno’s eventual successor don’t work out, it may not matter since great programs have survived bad coaches and been fine. What is clear is that you’d be hard-pressed to find two more different coaches.


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