The worst loss in Florida State’s modern era — a 20-17 walk-off defeat to Jacksonville State — has sparked a series of unpleasant questions about the Seminoles.
We’ll start here: How is FSU any different now under Mike Norvell than it was under Willie Taggart?
Taggart was fired nine games into his second season because, as athletic director David Coburn said, “6-6 isn’t good enough.” After Saturday’s loss, even that unacceptably low bar seems too high for Norvell’s Year 2.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key differences (good and bad) between FSU under Taggart and Norvell:
Norvell is 3-8 (2-6 ACC). Taggart was 5-6 (3-5 ACC) through 11 games and 6-8 overall through two games in 2019.
Norvell has the nation’s No. 64 team, according to SP+ advanced metrics. Taggart’s teams finished 71st and 58th.
Norvell’s upset of No. 5 North Carolina last season was bigger than anything Taggart accomplished. But Taggart never lost to a Football Championship Subdivision team, as Norvell did.
Beyond the box scores
Eight of Taggart’s 12 losses were three-score blowouts. FSU blew fourth-quarter leads in the other four. Taggart’s teams were the most penalized in the country and were plagued by easy-to-see issues (like not lining up correctly). He was doomed because of how little progress FSU made between his first game and his last one, and because of the program’s general disarray.
Five of Norvell’s eight losses have been by 16 points or more, while two of the others were blown leads. The one exception: the rally to force overtime in Week 1′s loss to No. 9 Notre Dame. Norvell’s Seminoles did show progress against the Irish, including an improved pass rush and promising run game. But they regressed against Jacksonville State, leading to another question: Which performance was the anomaly?
Success relative to expectations
Taggart called FSU a realignment, not a rebuild. His first team had the fifth most talent in the country, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and was only a year removed from the Orange Bowl. That made FSU’s downfall more dramatic.
Norvell’s expectations were muted because FSU went 18-20 in the three years before his arrival. Some around the program wondered whether FSU needed those struggles to see the cracks and how to fix them. Norvell also dealt with pandemic-related restrictions in his first year.
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His Seminoles are No. 20 in 247Sports’ talent composite and clearly underachieving. Even with the 2020 caveats, has his team shown enough growth?
Taggart salvaged the No. 11 recruiting class in his first cycle and the No. 18 class in his second. He lost two commits before his dismissal, and FSU’s class was ranked around 15th when he was fired. There was a concern that recruiting would have crumbled if he stayed. Taggart also failed to add an offensive skill player in 2019 or a high school quarterback in either class — glaring errors that still hinder FSU.
Norvell’s first two classes ranked 22nd. The 2022 class, however, is ranked 10th nationally with oral commitments from Georgia cornerback Travis Hunter (the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit) and blue-chip quarterback AJ Duffy from IMG Academy. This class is a big sign of progress for Norvell … if it sticks.
The bottom line
Norvell took over a program that was worse than the one Taggart inherited. Dealing with coronavirus restrictions, Norvell has had a higher high, a lower low and needs to go 6-4 to match Taggart’s 9-12 record.
Because of Taggart’s quick dismissal, it’s fair to wonder about Norvell’s security. One fan site has already listed potential successors. Even if you’re ready to start Bob Stoops or Deion Sanders rumors, ask yourself this: Could FSU afford it?
The Seminoles had financial issues when they fired Taggart and cut costs more because of the pandemic. FSU still owes Taggart $3.5 million a year through the ‘23 season. Norvell’s buyout at the end of this year would be about $16 million. That’s a lot of money for ex-coaches.
This much is clear: After leading the worst defeat in program history, Norvell has lost the benefit of the doubt.
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