Willie Taggart Fired; What's Next for Rebuilding Florida State Football?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 6, 2019

Former Florida State head coach Willie Taggart
Former Florida State head coach Willie TaggartMark Wallheiser/Associated Press

Florida State's football program fast-tracked the inevitable this past Sunday, firing head coach Willie Taggart nine games into his second disastrous season at the helm.

The timing was a bit surprising. Yes, the Seminoles just no-showed at home in a loss to their bitterest rival (Miami), but they face Boston College this coming Saturday, followed by an all-but-guaranteed home win against FCS school Alabama State one week later. Should the 'Noles happen to win the road game against BC, bowl-eligibility is still on the table.

Thus, making a coaching change six days prior to that pivotal matchup was an interesting decision, to say the least.

But backing into some no-name bowl game with a 6-6 record isn't the Florida State football way.

Fans were somewhat understanding of that fate during Bobby Bowden's age 75-80 seasons but only because he was a legend who went 152-19 from 1987-2000. And even he was eventually fired, so Taggart and his 9-12 record (career 56-62 record) never had a prayer of surviving in Tallahassee.

Now that the deed is done, where does Florida State go from here? And how long will it be before we're "Talkin' 'bout the 'Noles" in a good way again?

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Any time an athletic director from one of college football's flagship institutions is considering a coaching change, the biggest question they need to ask themself and their trusted advisers is: Can we get someone better?

Florida State AD David Coburn
Florida State AD David CoburnDon Juan Moore/Getty Images

There might be much better coaches on the market. It also might feel like the program cannot afford to endure another substandard season with a lame duck at head coach. But unless the AD is reasonably confident they can make a better hire, they might be sacrificing a recruiting cycle or two and further jeopardizing the state of their program for nothing.

That isn't to say Florida State made the wrong decision, but improvement via a coaching change is never guaranteed.

Certainly, the state of Seminoles football is much more dire than the situation was for Nebraska when it decided it deserved better than Bo Pelini, who lost exactly four games every season, but the past five years of struggling in Lincoln should serve as a cautionary tale that things could get even worse if FSU doesn't make the right hire.

(Cut to Michigan fans screaming about the idiocy of all the "Time for the Wolverines to move on from Jim Harbaugh" articles.)

As far as who that hire could be, the rapid "Who Might Replace Taggart?" reactions Sunday painted quite the optimistic picture from the national media.

With names like Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Lane Kiffin, Brent Venables and James Franklin flying around, you'd think we were talking about candidates to replace Nick Saban after a retirement from his wildly successful post at Alabama instead of options for rebuilding a program that has been a dumpster fire since the moment Deondre Francois' knee ripped to shreds in the 2017 season opener.

Other oft-mentioned candidates like Matt Campbell (Iowa State), Mark Stoops (Kentucky), Dave Clawson (Wake Forest), P.J. Fleck (Minnesota), Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Mike Norvell (Memphis) and Tom Allen (Indiana) who have put together something impressive at lower-profile programs have to be thinking, "I don't want any part of that mess when I've got job security, but you best believe I'm going to try to leverage that opening into a much more lucrative contract here."

Even if one of those 13 guys is willing to make the leap to a traditional powerhouse that has been a bit down on its luck lately, USCassuming Clay Helton isn't far behind Taggart on the unemployment lineis the much more enticing opening. So Florida State probably needs two big names to become available in order to grab one.

Apologies if you clicked in hopes of finding some insider info on this coaching search, but I have no earthly idea who will end up getting the job. I highly doubt it'll be Stoops or Meyer, and every other name on the wish list still has a few more weeks' of coaching left for bowl-bound teams. Chances are it'll be a little while until we find out who the new head coach is.

What I do know, though, is that the 'Noles need someone who can recruit the talent-rich Sunshine State a whole lot better than Taggart did.

Florida State RB Cam Akers
Florida State RB Cam AkersDon Juan Moore/Getty Images

When the Bowden era ended in 2009, Jimbo Fisher began to build a dynasty on the backs of homegrown talent. In a 2010 class that ranked No. 8 nationally, Fisher signed four of the top five recruits from Florida. The following year, only Saban had a higher-rated class, and each of Fisher's top-six recruits hailed from Florida.

Fisher proceeded to go 39-3 with a national championship in his third through fifth seasons.

In Taggart's first class, however, Asante Samuel Jr. (No. 60 overall; No. 12 in Florida) was the only player in the state's top 25 to choose the Seminoles. The 2019 cycle was better for Taggart but not by much. Akeem Dent (No. 50 overall; No. 8 in Florida) was the only top-15 in-state player to end up in Tallahassee.

It's little wonder things have gotten this bad with little-to-no hope of a quick revival.

And that was with the University of Florida going through issues of its own while transitioning from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain to Dan Mullen.

It'd be one thing if Florida and Miami were thriving and picking the state clean, but Taggart was losing home-state guys to programs all over the country. And now that Mullen and the Gators have had back-to-back strong seasons, it's going to be even harder for FSU to snag the guys who do want to stay closer to home.

More than anything, though, the new Seminoles coach needs to keep Dabo Swinney the hell out of his backyard.

Clemson signed more of Florida's top-15 recruits (three) in the past two years than Florida State did (two), and the Tigers already have commitments from three of the top four Florida guys in the 2020 class.

You want to close the gaping chasm between your program and your ACC overlords? That's where you start. Clemson is still going to sign plenty of high-caliber players on an annual basis, but at least make the Tigers find them in the other 49 states.

Do whatever it takes to hire the person who can make that happen. And if they happen to have a magic wand that can transform this offensive line from Swiss cheese into a stone wall, even better.


Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.