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Are Willie Taggart, Chad Morris firings college football’s new normal?

There are reasons to think quick hooks and mid-season dismissals are the new norm.
Florida State head coach Willie Taggart, right, disagrees with the referee in the first half of his final game with the Seminoles, Nov. 2 against Miami in Tallahassee. [MARK WALLHEISER | AP]
Published Nov. 12

As Florida State president John Thrasher began introducing Willie Taggart as the Seminoles’ new football coach, he addressed the six days of chaos from Jimbo Fisher’s departure to Taggart’s arrival as the early signing period loomed.

“I’m beginning to think it’s the new normal,” Thrasher said then.

RELATED: Early signing period, coaching vacancies made for high drama

Twenty-three months later, Thrasher is back in the middle of another coaching search after pulling the plug on Taggart less than two full seasons into his 9-12 tenure.

As Thrasher and the rest of the Seminoles’ decision makers head into Week 2 of their hunt, their colleagues at Arkansas are just beginning their look for a replacement to Chad Morris, who didn’t make it through Year 2 either.

Which leads to this question: Is this the new normal?

“I guess,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said Monday.

It’s too early to declare any trends, but two related threads from the situations in Tallahassee and Fayetteville are worth monitoring.

The most glaring — and for people in the profession, concerning — part is that both coaches were ousted so quickly into their tenures. The old standard of giving a coach three years to recruit and develop his players appears to be disappearing.

RELATED: Kirk Herbstreit has three criteria for FSU’s next coach. Who checks those boxes?

From 1990-2002, four Power Five coaches lost their jobs before the end of Year 3 for onfield reasons, according to Sports Illustrated. Since then, eight coaches have. Only one coach had a shorter leash than Taggart or Morris; Washington announced Keith Gilbertson was on his way out after a 1-7 start to his second year.

Mullen’s predecessor, Jim McElwain, didn’t make the list because of the bizarre circumstances and alleged death threats surrounding his exit. But McElwain was feeling the heat in Year 3, even after winning the SEC East in his first two seasons.

Jim McElwain takes questions during a news conference following Florida's loss to Georgia Saturday in Jacksonville.

“It’s a high-profile, high-pressure job that we’re in,” Mullen said, “and people expect results.”

Neither Morris nor Taggart produced the expected results. Taggart was getting $5 million annually to lead Florida State to what was likely to be its worst two-year stretch since 1975-76. Morris was making $4 million to finish winless in the SEC. Both leave with eight-figure buyouts.

RELATED: Did Willie Taggart leave FSU better than he found it?

Even if their quick hooks do not become the norm, there’s a good chance the other part of their departures does: Midseason firings.

Midyear dismissals, obviously, aren’t new. Florida fired Will Muschamp and Ron Zook before the end of their seasons, and Miami canned Al Golden in mid-2015. But more schools could start subscribing to the old Jeremy Foley saying that what must be done eventually should be done immediately.

Three Power Five schools (Florida State, Arkansas and Rutgers) all got rid of their coaches before mid-November for football-related reasons. That hadn’t happened in any of the last four coaching carousels.

If the timeline for getting rid of a coach is speeding up, the early signing period is at least partially to blame.

It was hard enough for a coach to join his new program in early December and filling a class two months later. With most Division I-A recruits now signing in mid-December, the timeline has been crunched even more, which is one reason why Florida State athletic director David Coburn saw an advantage to getting rid of Taggart before the Nov. 30 finale at Florida.

“I think we want to be able to have somebody ready to recruit,” Coburn said.

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

In some ways, the search that brought Mullen to Florida in 2017 might be the best template of a modern hire.

McElwain was out before the end of October, giving the Gators weeks to work behind the scenes at vetting and identifying his replacement. A day after the season ended, Mullen was announced as Florida’s head coach. He was formally introduced that Monday and jumped headfirst into recruiting.

Unless Bob Stoops is coming to Florida State, it’s a blueprint the Seminoles will likely be following in the coming weeks.

Welcome to the new normal.

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

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