Florida State coach Mike Norvell will get a second chance at a first impression when his Seminoles host No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday.
He’d better make the most of it in a way his predecessor did not.
Willie Taggart was already under fire after his 5-7 first season, but there was cautious optimism around Tallahassee going into Year 2. Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles could boost the scoring. Taggart touted signs of progress in the culture change that helped him turn around USF and Western Kentucky. It all sounded great.
Until the season started.
Taggart’s Seminoles were up by 18 points twice at home in their opener against Boise State before withering in a 36-31 loss. It wasn’t the fatal blow for Taggart’s tenure, but it was the beginning of the end. FSU officials suggested it was a coincidence that Taggart finally signed one of his contracts a few days later.
Two months later, he was out.
Norvell’s situation isn’t quite the same. The short-term expectations are lower because he inherited a program in worse shape. His 3-6 inaugural season carried a coronavirus asterisk because of how much the pandemic kept new coaches from installing their systems and instilling their values. He got a mulligan for last year, including the first game of his tenure — an ugly 16-13 home loss to a bad Georgia Tech team. Barring scandal or on-field disaster, Norvell is not in danger of losing his job in Year 2, the way Taggart did.
But he needs to show improvement. Now is a great time to start.
Of the 54 offensive or defensive players on the depth chart, Norvell added 32 of them. These are his guys.
FSU’s offensive line has struggled for years. Norvell brought in three of the five projected starters, so any steps forward or backward are on him.
FSU’s defense was No. 119 in sacks last year. Norvell brought in three projected starters on the line, so the pass rush’s progression or regression is on him.
Norvell likes to say that his offense is built for playmakers. Norvell brought in the top two running backs, one of its top receivers and its potential starting quarterback (UCF transfer McKenzie Milton), so the offense’s explosive plays (or lack thereof) are on him.
Let’s be clear: FSU fans should not expect a finished product. The ‘Noles are in the middle of a long-term rebuild. A 6-6 record — which athletic director David Coburn said “isn’t good enough” when he fired Taggart — would be a welcome accomplishment, as long as Norvell shows progress.
The last part is important. Taggart’s 9-12 record doomed him, but the lack of growth is what ultimately did him in. His first game (a 21-point loss at home to Virginia Tech) looked too much like his second opener (the Boise State collapse), which looked too much like his last game (a three-score home loss to Miami).
Norvell doesn’t have to beat Notre Dame, but he does need to prove that he and his team have changed since last year’s Week 1 embarrassment against Georgia Tech.
Use the national stage to show how the ‘Noles are getting better. Keep it closer than last year’s 16-point loss, when FSU was outgained by 151 yards. Show elite prospects the bones of a program that can compete for championships again to help secure a top-10 recruiting class. Norvell needs to take this opportunity against a marquee opponent to do what his predecessor could not.
Make the most of his second chance at a first impression.
FSU will host a gameday coronavirus vaccination clinic from 3-7 p.m. Sunday at the Garnet and Go Convenience Store on the east side of Doak Campbell Stadium. The first 250 students, faculty or staff members to get a vaccine will receive a $50 gift card to the bookstore and Seminole sports shop.
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