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When Bobby Bowden retired—read: was put out to pasture—last week after 34 years at Florida State, the word used most often by media types and fans was bittersweet. The bitter part was that Bowden, one of the greatest college football coaches ever, could not write his own ending with sweeping Disney music and one last ride off the field on the shoulders of the Seminoles.
The sweet part was that there were so many great memories ... and, yeah, that with the octogenarian Bowden gone, Florida State might start winning games again.
It's like Bowden himself says: That's the nature of college football. This is no country for old men. Time was, coaches were synonymous with their schools and even bigger in their states than the governor. Bear Bryant didn't coach at Alabama, he was Alabama. Bo Schembechler was Michigan. Tom Osborne was Nebraska. Vince Dooley was Georgia.
Well, with Bowden gone, here is the list of Division I coaches who have done even 20 consecutive years at their schools:
1. Joe Paterno, who has been at Penn State since 1966. He will turn 83 this month.
2. Frank Beamer, who has been at Virginia Tech since 1987.
That's all. At some point Paterno will probably step down on his own terms. Beamer, who is 63, may still coach for a few years. But we have arrived at the end of an era. It isn't just that the legendary old coaches are disappearing. It's that there are so few legendary new coaches on the horizon, guys who build programs and then guide them through generations.
The movie The Blind Side is purportedly the compelling story of offensive line prodigy Michael Oher. But when the six coaches who recruited Oher five years ago play themselves in the movie, you see a whole other story. Houston Nutt: then at Arkansas, now at Ole Miss. Ed Orgeron: then at Ole Miss, now an assistant at Tennessee. Phillip Fulmer: then at Tennessee, now a CBS Sports analyst. Lou Holtz: then at South Carolina, now an ESPN analyst. Tommy Tuberville: then at Auburn, now on ESPN. Nick Saban: then at LSU, now at Alabama.
That's right: Six coaches, and not one is where he was in 2004. The wheels of college football spin like they never have before.
Why? There are pressures from all sides. When Notre Dame signed Charlie Weis to a 10-year extension for $30 million in 2005, the idea was to make it difficult for him to leave for the NFL. Then Notre Dame started losing to Navy, and school officials found themselves bound by the enormous buyout (reported to be around $18 million). The Irish canned him anyway. There is no amount of money that can prevent a college from firing a struggling coach.