Sunday, July 22, 2018
Sports

Is Willie Taggart really ready for Florida State

Goodbye, Jimbo.

Hello, Willie?

Say it ainít so. Iím talking about both.

Itís still hard to believe that Jimbo Fisher will pack up his whistle, playbook and resume with a national championship and Heisman Trophy winner and head off to Texas A&M. We always thought Jimbo would be at Florida State forever, just like Coach Bowden. If Jimbo ever did leave, it would be for LSU or Alabama. Maybe the NFL. Not Texas A&M.

Texas A&M? Really?

How is this happening? Why leave, Jimbo? Why let him leave, FSU? None of this makes any sense.

Florida State is a destination job, not a job you take on your way to a place like Texas A&M. FSU is going to find out that you canít do much better than a guy like Jimbo. About the same time, Jimbo is going to find out that there arenít many places better to coach than FSU. And Texas A&M isnít one of them.

Jimbo should be in Tallahassee. But egos got in the way and feelings got hurt and now both parties are acting like a couple of spoiled brats marching off in opposite directions with arms folded and yelling, "Good!íí

This is anything but good. For either side.

RELATED COVERAGE: Possible replacements for Jimbo Fisher

Remember this moment. If Jimbo leaves, FSU might never be the same. It might never be this good again. A lot will depend on who would replace Jimbo.

The name that keeps coming up is Willie Taggart. You remember Willie. He fixed USF after Skip Holtz ran that program into the ground. That got him a job at Oregon, where he just wrapped up a 7-5 regular season.

So can Willie fix an FSU program that suddenly finds itself at a crossroads?

Call me skeptical. Call it a gut feeling. I just donít know that heís ready for Florida State.

Look, I like Willie as a guy. During his time at USF, I co-hosted a radio show and Taggart was a guest every week during football season. Win or lose, in good times and bad, he was friendly, cooperative and honest. He used to close every interview with a line that has become one of my favorite all-time lines:

"Have a great day if you want to.íí

I love that. It says that you are in control of your own happiness, that you decide how youíre going to live your life.

And Taggart certainly has done a lot with his. He was a football star down the road in Bradenton. He learned how to coach working with the Harbaughs, a royal family of coaching. He made enough noise at little Western Kentucky to land the USF job. And that job got him the Oregon job.

But letís not forget how USF almost went off the cliff with Taggart in charge. Iím typing this column into the same computer that also holds another column written Oct. 10, 2015. That column was about Taggart being fired, which assuredly would have happened if USF had lost to Syracuse that day. But USF won. The column never ran. He won six of the next seven, went to a bowl game and saved his job.

Then came a stunning 11-2, the best season USF has ever had.

I still wonder how Taggart would be as a coach if quarterback Quinton Flowers had never been born.

Then again, Taggart gets to take credit for recruiting Flowers to play quarterback, which no one else was willing to do. He also gets credit for beating Syracuse when his job was in jeopardy, as well as leading USF to an 11-2 record last season, as well as pointing Oregon in the right direction this season.

Yet it still seems like Taggart has risen too far too fast. The bulk of his resume is about last yearís record in a small conference, and shouldnít we be cautious about any coach who hangs his career on, basically, one lightning-in-a-bottle season in the American Athletic Conference?

Weíve seen him take a wobbly program and turn it into a respectable one. But can he take a good program and make it great? Itís not easy to win 11 games in a Power Five conference and play for national titles. That will be expected at FSU.

There is reason for optimism, starting with the fact that Taggart is known as a heck of a recruiter, especially in this state. Getting talent is half the battle in college football. But the other half is coaching on Saturdays, dealing with obnoxious boosters and unreasonable fans. Thatís the part that gives me pause.

Iím not saying he canít do it, but I am saying that Iím not sure he can. And when youíre talking about an elite program such as Florida State, arenít you supposed to be sure?

Maybe heís the best of available coaches. Lane Kiffin has baggage. Justin Fuente hasnít really done a whole lot more than Taggart has. Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong might be too old for FSUís tastes, although I like both of those coaches. Maybe Taggart is the best of the bunch.

Then again, I think I have the perfect candidate for FSU: Jimbo Fisher.

Think he would leave Texas A&M?

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.

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