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Did Willie Taggart leave FSU better than he found it?

“I still think it’s a heavyweight job,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. But...

When Willie Taggart stood in Doak Campbell Stadium 23 months ago for the first time as Florida State’s coach, he was walking into one of the best programs in the country.

Taggart inherited a roster built on four consecutive top-six recruiting classes and a team that was only four years removed from its third national championship.

RELATED: Who will replace Willie Taggart at FSU? Some names to watch

The situation Taggart’s successor will take over is different. Here’s how the program Taggart leaves behind compares to the one he inherited from Jimbo Fisher:

Where the program is better

Florida State Seminoles tight end Gabe Nabers (32) celebrates a touchdown with Florida State Seminoles quarterback James Blackman (1) during the first quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the Boise State Broncos at Doak Campbell Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Tallahassee, Florida. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

Culture: Taggart’s two seasons were scandal-free and featured very few off-field incidents. It’s not quantifiable, but people in and around the program say Taggart boosted accountability in the locker room and in the classroom. “The culture has changed…” interim coach Odell Haggins said. FSU’s APR (academic progress rate) is still the lowest in Division I-A, but the progress Taggart’s supporters say he made won’t be seen for months or years.

Surroundings: The year before Fisher left, the ACC was the best conference in the country. When Taggart took over, the league had four ranked teams, including playoff-bound Clemson. The ACC has weakened since then and put only two teams in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings, so the path to a title has gotten easier.

RELATED: Jimbo Fisher reacts to Willie Taggart’s firing at FSU

Structure: The athletic department’s transformation into the Florida State University Athletics Association should make everything run more smoothly for the next coach.

Where the program is worse

Florida State Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart talks to reporters before practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida on Tuesday, August 13, 2019. OCTAVIO JONES | Times [OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]

Talent: Although Taggart’s initial roster had holes (most notably on the offensive line), it also had a talented quarterback (Deondre Francois) and star-in-the-making running back (Cam Akers). FSU will likely lose its two best players (Akers and defensive lineman Marvin Wilson) to the draft, and Taggart’s last two classes both ranked outside the top 10. His failure to sign a quarterback either year also puts the new coach at a disadvantage.

Money: The Seminoles faced multi-million-dollar deficits each of the last two years and will be hurt by dwindling home crowds and the $20 million they’ll likely end up spending on buyouts for Taggart and his staff. The long-term outlook isn’t bleak, but the short-term issues are a concern.

Administration: President John Thrasher expires in a year, and athletic director David Coburn and Seminole Boosters president Andy Miller are also nearing retirement. That means the new coach will have new bosses soon, which is a scary thought in an unstable profession.

RELATED: FSU athletic director David Coburn: ‘6-6 isn’t good enough’

Reputation: Three consecutive subpar seasons and the administrative issues have dented the brand. Taggart’s quick hook was justifiable but will have prospective candidates wondering how much time they’ll get to fix a program stuck in its worst three-year stretch since 1974-76.

Where the program is about the same

A rendering of Florida State's proposed football-only facility, which is still in the fundraising stages. (Courtesy: FSU)

Facilities: The $60 million football-only facility Fisher craved is still in the fundraising stages. It probably won’t open in July 2021 (as originally scheduled), so the new coach will still be selling blueprints instead of a physical building.

RELATED: Inside college football’s latest facilities craze: the football-only complex

Recruiting footprint: FSU remains in one of the top three talent-producing states in the country and just south of the No. 4 state. The Gators’ Dan Mullen hasn’t started dominating the state’s recruiting trails, and Manny Diaz’s 2020 class at Miami (No. 16) is only two spots ahead of FSU. The right coach in Tallahassee will still be in position to land elite prospects.

RELATED: The three beginnings that led to Willie Taggart’s end at FSU

Bottom line

Boise State Broncos linebacker Curtis Weaver (99) hops up after sacking Florida State Seminoles quarterback James Blackman (1) during the fourth quarter of the Florida State Seminoles game against the Boise State Broncos at Doak Campbell Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida State Seminoles lost to Boise State Broncos, 31 to 36. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

Although Taggart deserves credit for some of the steps he took to fix FSU’s foundation, his successor will be walking into a program that’s worse now than it was 23 months ago. That doesn’t mean the Seminoles can’t be fixed or that they can’t start challenging for championships again soon.

“I still think it’s a heavyweight job,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said.

All it needs is the right coach.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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