ST. PETERSBURG — On the morning of Nov. 3, I’m sure it seemed like the right thing to do.
Florida State looked unorganized and uninspired in a loss to a mediocre Miami team the day before. Doak Campbell Stadium was beginning to resemble a past-its-prime bar at closing time. And there was not nearly enough hope on the sidelines to compensate for the dreariness everywhere else.
So, yeah, firing Willie Taggart with four weeks remaining in the season might have made sense on a gut level.
But in retrospect, it was a mistake. Maybe not the firing, but the timing.
No school should ever fire a coach without having a darned good idea of who his successor might be. I’ve known athletic directors who had bona fide coaching stars already under contract but, just in case, had a list of potential replacements just a phone call away.
And that doesn’t seem to be the case in Tallahassee, where a consulting firm had to be hired to help lead this search.
In retrospect, there is one legitimate advantage to firing a coach at mid-season. It gives a school a chance to hire a free agent who is already available at that moment. Like an Urban Meyer. Or a Bob Stoops. But if that’s your plan, you need to be certain it will work before you pull the trigger.
Otherwise, you run the risk of having Stoops snub you publicly.
And now that job opening looks even less appealing. And everyone will assume the next guy was not the first choice.
Here’s what’s important to understand: FSU officials did not suddenly grow disenchanted with Taggart in October.
They already had some inkling this wasn’t going in the right direction after a tepid debut season in 2018. And that means they should have already been plotting their next move well in advance.
Advice could have been sought. Discreet inquiries could have been made. And FSU could have had a blueprint ready with Taggart being dismissed this weekend and a new coach already waiting in the wings.
Instead, the coaching search has dragged on for a month. And its left FSU looking like a program in turmoil.
The empty bleachers are more glaring than ever. Stories of FSU’s financial woes are spreading. Players are lobbying for interim coach Odell Haggins. And the Seminoles still need to wait for the end of the regular season, and possibly the conference championships next week, before making a move.
Maybe they can still make a splash hire. But it feels like they’ve made it harder on themselves.
In the meantime, we’ve put together a completely unscientific coaching bracket to help you learn more about, and choose, your favorite FSU candidate. In case you need catching up, we eliminated Penn State’s James Franklin, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, UCF’s Josh Heupel and Haggins in the quarterfinals.
That leaves four entries remaining in the semifinal round:
No. 1 Matt Campbell vs. No. 3 Clemson coordinators
Handing a coordinator the keys to a major program takes some guts. It also can lead to dizzying results. Stoops had never been a head coach when he took over at Oklahoma, and he won a national title two years later. Jimbo Fisher had never been a head coach when promoted by FSU in 2010. Four years later he won a national championship.
In his second season as a head coach, Kirby Smith had Georgia in the national championship game. Dabo Swinney has worked out at Clemson and Lincoln Riley is doing well at Oklahoma. A coordinator may not get boosters’ hearts beating but hiring the right one can be like finding gold.
Which brings us to Clemson and its trio of candidates. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables, 48, has won titles at both Oklahoma and Clemson. Offensive co-coordinators Tony Elliott, 40, and Jeff Scott, 38, have shorter resumes but intriguing prospects. Is there a future star amongst this group?
I’m betting yes. But I’m also betting FSU goes the safer route with an established head coach.
Winner: At 39, Campbell has youth and experience on his side.
No. 2 Mike Norvell vs. No. 4 Anonymous
In the quarterfinals we suggested Anonymous could be a candidate hiding in the weeds. An attractive coach who might have been mentioned in passing, but has not been identified as one of the leading contenders.
Maybe Baylor’s Matt Rhule. Maybe Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin. Maybe even 30-year-old LSU hotshot passing game coordinator Joe Brady. Maybe someone so far off the radar that everyone will be taken by surprise. Given the length of this process, and what’s at stake for FSU, I suppose anything is possible.
On the other hand, Norvell checks off a lot of boxes. He’s young (38), he was a sought-after coordinator (at Arizona State) and he’s had success as a head coach (Memphis).
Winner: There’s a reason people are tossing Norvell’s name around.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.