The smoke coming off Florida State coach Willie Taggart’s hot seat is real.
That doesn’t mean there’s enough fire to force him out of Tallahassee this week, or even this year. But after last weekend’s debacle at Wake Forest, the conversation surrounding his potential firing has shifted from message-board fantasy to real-world possibility.
Even after a dreadful 5-7 debut and disastrous start to Year 2, FSU’s powerbrokers didn’t think they could afford to fire him. Now some of them don’t think they can afford to keep him.
And if they can’t afford to keep him, then they can’t afford to wait. If the administrators and boosters who would figure out his eight-figure buyout know he’s not the answer, then they need to move on.
Not in November, after a subpar season ends with an inevitable blowout loss at Florida.
If the Seminoles don’t think Taggart can turn their program around from his 8-11 start, then beating Syracuse on Saturday shouldn’t be enough to save his job, the way it did at USF in 2015.
The three games after that — mediocre Miami, a bad Boston College team that lost by 24 at home to Kansas and Division I-AA Alabama State — are all winnable contests but meaningless as big-picture referendums. Would an empty-calorie four-game winning streak and a bowl trip back to Shreveport convince skeptics that Taggart is capable of bringing titles back to Tallahassee?
If the answer is no, then FSU should act now, not in late November. Football Scoop has already linked FSU to former Gators/Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. If FSU wanted to make a run at him or other ex-college coaches like Bob Stoops or Mark Richt, then starting today gives the Seminoles a head start on other potential openings like USC.
Even if all three of those options seem unlikely — and they are — the jumpstart would still give FSU more time to vet potential coaches. Athletic director David Coburn is an intelligent, respected man, but his background is in politics and budgets, not athletics. He has never made a hire like this. The extra weeks would be beneficial for him and the rest of the Seminoles to make a decision of this magnitude.
The early signing period has increased the urgency to hire (and fire) coaches. Instead of having two months to evaluate a roster and build relationships with recruits, the new system gives coaches two and a half weeks from the final weekend of the regular season until the first signing day. Every hour for the new coaching staff matters.
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Only one team that made a head coaching change last cycle signed a top-25 class: Ohio State. And even that comes with caveats. Promoting Ryan Day created a relatively smooth transition, and the Buckeyes’ haul still only ranked 14th — low by their standards.
An early start to the coaching search doesn’t guarantee that FSU will be able to hold onto the key pieces of a nice class ranked No. 13 nationally. But it increases the new coach’s odds of salvaging success and avoids the kind of mess Taggart immediately inherited from Jimbo Fisher.
This whole scenario is only possible because the mood surrounding the program has soured. Taggart’s late-game coaching malpractice at Wake Forest has caused the calculus of his roughly $17 million buyout to change, despite the athletic department’s years-long financial problems.
Doak Campbell Stadium has drawn announced crowds smaller than 58,000 only four times in the last three decades. All of them happened in the last six home games. The announced attendance last month against Louisville (46,530) was FSU’s smallest home crowd since 1983.
Considering how last week ended and how unappealing Syracuse is as an opponent, how bad will Saturday afternoon’s homecoming crowd be? And if an embattled Taggart returns for Year 3, will those figures get better or worse next year against Pitt or Wake Forest?
Beyond showing discontent and apathy with Taggart’s program, the attendance problems are costing FSU money, one empty seat at a time. String together thousands of them every home game for an entire season, and Taggart’s buyout starts to seem like a wise investment for the future.
That’s why the smoke is rising in Tallahassee. That’s why some of FSU’s powerbrokers have gone from thinking that they can’t afford to fire Taggart to accepting the idea that they can’t afford to keep him.
And if they can’t afford to keep him, then they can’t afford to wait any longer to make their move.