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Bowden rides high

Retiring Florida State coach goes out with his 389th victory

Florida State players give retiring head coach Bobby Bowden one final ride after Friday’s 33-21 Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia. (Associated Press)
Florida State players give retiring head coach Bobby Bowden one final ride after Friday’s 33-21 Gator Bowl victory over West Virginia. (Associated Press)
Tim Reynolds Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bobby Bowden rode only a few bouncy steps on his players’ shoulders, then hopped off.

“I thought it was about time to get down,” he said.

Time to say goodbye. As a winner, too.

Jermaine Thomas ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns, MVP E.J. Manuel threw for 189 yards and ran for another score and Florida State knocked off No. 18 West Virginia 33-21 Friday at the Gator Bowl in the final game of Bowden’s storied 57-year coaching career.

“The winning was really a bonus,” Bowden said. “Knowing it’s your last game, I’ll be honest with you, I’m kind of interested in this retirement business. I ain’t got to set my alarm no more, I’ll get up when I’m darn good and ready, then like I say, go out and look for a job.”

Bowden finished with a 389-129-4 record, and most importantly to him, a 33rd consecutive winning season. Next week, Jimbo Fisher takes over at Florida State, which finished 7-6 for the third time in the last four seasons.

That run of mediocrity was the 80-year-old Bowden’s downfall – he wanted to stay at least one more season, but was essentially forced into retirement after Florida State offered him a lesser role for 2010.

But on this day, none of that mattered to the Florida State faithful, which serenaded him with “Bob-by! Bob-by!” chants throughout the day, saving their loudest cries for the very end.

“Eat your heart out, Florida State,” Ann Bowden, the coach’s wife, said afterward. “Eat your heart out.”

With 1:39 left, Bowden trotted down to the Florida State band section, removing his autographed white cap and tossing it into the seats – and the celebration began. When it was over, Bowden was surrounded by a wall of photographers as he was trying to make his way over to shake the hand of West Virginia coach Bill Stewart – who was a 177-pound walk-on for Bowden’s first Mountaineers team in 1970.

“It’s got to be memorable,” Bowden said. “It’s my last dadgum ballgame after 57 years of coaching.”

Losing to his mentor didn’t make it easier for Stewart.

“I don’t like to lose,” Stewart said. “He taught me that.”

Bowden leaves as major college football’s second-winningest coach. Joe Paterno earned his 394th victory Friday in the Capital One Bowl as Penn State beat LSU 19-17, now the official winner of the back-and-forth race to be the game’s all-time win leader, something that wasn’t lost on Bowden.

Paterno could win No. 400 next year. By his own math, Bowden’s already beyond that benchmark.

“How about them 22 wins I got at South Georgia College? How come that don’t count?” Bowden said, talking about where he was from 1956-58, before heading to Samford. “I know it doesn’t count NCAA, but will somebody mention, please, that I have 400 wins during my lifetime?”

He laughed, clearly at ease.

This retirement thing is already working.

Noel Devine rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia (9-4), which ran out to a 14-3 lead, then sputtered the rest of the way.

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