Kendal Briles hire shows it’s win-now mode for FSU, Willie Taggart

From a football-only perspective, the hire makes perfect sense. But it's not that simple with Briles or FSU.
Kendal Briles was the offensive coordinator at Baylor before going to Florida Atlantic and Houston.  [AP file photo /LM Otero ]
Kendal Briles was the offensive coordinator at Baylor before going to Florida Atlantic and Houston. [AP file photo /LM Otero ]
Published December 23 2018

By formally announcing former Houston assistant Kendal Briles as Florida State's new offensive coordinator and primary play caller Sunday, coach Willie Taggart showed the pressure he's feeling after his inaugural 5-7 failure.

How else can you explain hiring Briles, who is inextricably tied by family and football to one of the few recent college football scandals bigger than the one the Seminoles withstood five years ago?

It's win-now mode for Willie. Win now, at all costs.

Briles was an assistant under his father, Art Briles, during Baylor's sexual abuse scandal. By Baylor's count, 19 players were accused of committing sexual or domestic assaults. One of the lawsuits filed against the university counted at least 31 players involved in 52 "acts of rape" from 2011-14. Whatever the true numbers are, they're heinous.

Baylor, a private university, has not specified the roles assistant coaches played in the wrongdoing. An NCAA investigation that could provide more details remains open.

It would be unfair to punish Briles for the sins of his father. Except Briles was directly and indirectly implicated in the scandal, too.

One of the lawsuits describes a "show em a good time" recruiting culture at Baylor … around the time Briles served as one of the Bears' recruiting coordinators.

Baylor suspended him for its 2015 season opener because of a violation of NCAA recruiting rules unrelated to the scandal, but that's a mere footnote. The ugliest recruiting story against the 36-year-old Texan appeared in one of the Title IX lawsuits against Baylor. According to the suit, Briles asked a Dallas-area prospect: "Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor, and they love football players."

Taggart and the Seminoles should be wary of filling a high-profile vacancy with someone tied to Title IX issues, considering FSU's own recent troubles.

In January 2016, the school reached a $950,000 settlement with Zephyrhills native Erica Kinsman, who accused FSU of violating Title IX in its handling of her rape accusation against quarterback Jameis Winston. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is still investigating.

In May, FSU suspended offensive tackle Josh Ball after a Title IX investigation found him responsible for wrongdoing. The previous coaching staff allowed him to continue starting, even after his former girlfriend accused him of physically attacking her at least three times.

And now, Briles.

But Taggart needs help. His 'Noles suffered their first losing season since 1976. Their home attendance was their worst in 26 years. They averaged their fewest points per game (21.9) since 1981 — which was also the last time FSU failed to make a bowl game.

The grace period is over.

Taggart must know it. He knew the expectations when he took the job. And he knows what he has to do to keep it.

Win. Win now, at all costs.

Maybe Briles can help Taggart do more of that than his last coordinator, Walt Bell, who seemed in over his head before taking the head coaching job at UMass earlier this month.

Under Bell and Taggart, the 'Noles scored 30 points only three times this season; Briles' Cougars did it every regular-season game.

In four seasons as an offensive coordinator, Briles' offenses have never averaged fewer than 34 points per game. His Bears offense in 2015 led the nation with 48.1 points per game; he ranked eighth last season at Florida Atlantic (40.6 ppg) and was sixth in his only year at Houston (43.9). Briles' philosophies (up tempo, spread players from sideline to sideline) are a schematic match for Taggart's Gulf Coast Offense.

"(Briles) had multiple opportunities following the 2018 season," Taggart said in a statement, "and we feel the fit here will be a good one."

From a football-only perspective, Taggart is right. But with Briles, and FSU, football shouldn't be the only factor.

It's just the most important one for a coach who seems to be feeling the pressure entering his second season.

Win. Win now, at all costs.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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