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Why Willie Taggart’s early firing helped FSU football land Mike Norvell

Athletic director David Coburn said he thought the midseason move would give FSU a significant advantage. He was right.
Florida State football coach Mike Norvell speaks at a news conference Sunday in Tallahassee. Norvell is Florida State's new coach, taking over a Seminoles program that has struggled while he was helping to build Memphis into a Group of Five power. [PHIL SEARS  |  AP]
Florida State football coach Mike Norvell speaks at a news conference Sunday in Tallahassee. Norvell is Florida State's new coach, taking over a Seminoles program that has struggled while he was helping to build Memphis into a Group of Five power. [PHIL SEARS | AP]
Published Dec. 9, 2019
Updated Dec. 9, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — When Florida State fired Willie Taggart last month with three games left in the regular season, athletic director David Coburn said he did so because the midseason announcement would give the Seminoles “a significant advantage” in their search.

That search finally ended Sunday when FSU hired Mike Norvell from Memphis to replace Taggart. Even though the hunt spanned five weeks and lasted past Coburn’s initial timeline, he was right. Getting rid of Taggart on Nov. 3 helped FSU hire Norvell on Dec. 8 and, as importantly, put Norvell and his ’Noles in the best position for success, given the circumstances.

Related: Why FSU’s Mike Norvell isn’t Willie Taggart 2.0

FSU officials said Norvell was the first coach they interviewed. One reason why: The week of Taggart’s firing happened to coincide with Norvell’s open date at Memphis.

“It worked out during our bye week I had a little bit of a time to be able to meet up with President (John) Thrasher and the whole group,” Norvell said. “That was a great, great meeting, a great moment.”

That great moment wouldn’t have happened if Taggart had still been employed. But he wasn’t, so Norvell got the first chance to make a lasting impression on FSU’s brass.

“I think by the end of our first interview the president and I were very interested,” FSU athletic director David Coburn said. “And (search firm consultant Glenn Sugiyama) had made it clear that this guy was going to be a key player, and we agreed."

The two-hour conversation was also important to Norvell. He told his wife, Maria, afterward that Thrasher and Coburn “have it figured out” and understood the importance of the program to the university and the entire state. Norvell left with a baseline understanding of FSU that led him to decline opportunities with other open jobs this cycle (like Ole Miss).

Related: 10 thoughts and notes on FSU coach Mike Norvell’s introduction

FSU’s head start also corrected an issue Thrasher saw in the 2017 search that landed Taggart four days after Jimbo Fisher bolted for Texas A&M.

“Too quick,” Thrasher said. “Probably too quick. That was the biggest one. I think not enough due diligence in some other areas.”

FSU had weeks to spend on due diligence this time. The search probably couldn’t have been “methodic,” as Thrasher called it, if FSU had waited until the end of the regular season to get rid of Taggart.

Thrasher said his goal was to get the best coach he could, period, regardless of how long it took. But the process still ended as quickly as could reasonably be expected, given the fact that FSU’s eventual hire was coaching in the AAC championship on Saturday.

Before 1 p.m. Sunday, Norvell had already addressed his new team, met with reporters and introduced himself to boosters. He had also shaken hands with a pair of visiting prospects to salvage the final part of a pivotal recruiting weekend before the early signing period begins on Dec. 18.

Florida State football coach Mike Norvell talks to staffers after a news conference Sunday. [PHIL SEARS | AP]

Compare that ultra-productive Sunday morning to the Arkansas had. The Razorbacks —who also fired their coach midseason —didn’t even announce their new coach (Georgia assistant Sam Pittman) until seven hours after Norvell’s introductory news conference. While Norvell was working on his 2020 roster, Pittman wasn’t.

Related: How have American Athletic Conference coaches fared in the Power Five?

Maybe those things sound small, but every interaction is pivotal, especially with the condensed timeline that comes with the early signing period.

So no, FSU’s hire did not come as soon as the Seminoles and their fans hoped. But Coburn was right; the decision to fire Taggart created a significant advantage —for FSU and its new coach.

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

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