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Florida State Seminoles

FSU fires HC Willie Taggart after Miami loss

Matt Zemek

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Florida State made a reasonable decision

Who should be Florida State’s next football coach? I know you want to hear about it, but right now, let’s first process the decision FSU made to fire Willie Taggart before the Boston College-Florida home stretch.

Was it reasonable? Was it fair? Before we search for a successor, it is worth evaluating a coach firing on its own terms. It is important to do so, because the historical record demands accountability and a willingness to evaluate moves not just when they are made, but when their effects are apparent.

If people such as myself were confident in thinking that Willie Taggart would do well at Florida State when he was originally hired (not stratospherically great, but 10 wins per season and a threat to Clemson; I did think Taggart would be able to do that much), I have to do two other things as well:

A) Admit I was wrong.

B) Evaluate the decision to fire him at this point in time.

Firing coaches after two years on the job is very serious business in college football, especially at blue-blood programs. It is not a decision to be made – or taken – lightly. If a program fires a coach after two seasons, it can have a chilling effect on the marketplace. It can make attractive candidates shy away, for fear of not getting adequate support from the administration if things go wrong early in a tenure.

There are two reasons a quick-trigger coach firing can occur (within the first two seasons). One is a terrible off-field scandal which severely damages the program’s reputation and brand.

The second reason pertains to on-field results: A program has to be a disaster for a coach to be fired after two seasons.

Did FSU meet that level of ineptitude? Let’s use an important piece of context here.

We remember how great the ACC was in 2016: Lamar Jackson won the Heisman and made Louisville an extremely dangerous team. Virginia Tech looked great under Justin Fuente that season. Georgia Tech still had Paul Johnson and was still a bowl program, unlike this year.

The 2016 ACC had three teams with 10 or more wins, six with nine or more, eight with eight or more, and 11 teams with at least seven wins. ACC teams won nine postseason games.

If Florida State had finished 3-5 in that year’s ACC, and 6-6 overall, the result would not be acceptable, but it wouldn’t be cause for firing a coach after two seasons.

However, the 2019 ACC is profoundly different league compared to 2016.

Stumbling in this version of the ACC is orders of magnitude worse than struggling in an elite conference such as the 2016 ACC. If you were to say this program is a disaster after two seasons of Willie Taggart, the argument is entirely reasonable. One could debate the merits of a coach firing after two seasons, but the discussion itself is legitimate.

Let’s offer a few points of comparison: The Big Ten has three unbeaten teams right now: Ohio State, Penn State, and Minnesota. The SEC has LSU and Alabama playing this Saturday, with Georgia owning one loss and Auburn and Florida having two losses.

Finishing fifth or sixth in those two conferences would put a program on par with Michigan (Big Ten) or Auburn (SEC). Florida State does not expect to finish fifth in the ACC, but the 2016 ACC was a beast of a conference. The 2019 ACC (Clemson excepted, of course) is a cute little puppy dog who likes to play with plush toys. It is soft and cuddly.

Florida State can’t be viewed as anywhere near the top five in this year’s ACC. Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina would probably fill out the top seven teams, the top half of the 14-team conference. You could make the case that Florida State is closer to being the 10th-best ACC team than the fifth-best team.

In Year 1, okay, sure – Taggart had to get adjusted to everything.

Late in Year 2? No – this is completely unacceptable.

Who should be the next coach? We will tackle that question soon enough. For now, let’s be clear: This was an entirely reasonable move. Florida State had legitimate reason to fire Willie Taggart before the end of a second full season.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

Florida State Seminoles

Cristobal Oregon Rose Bowl win reminder of what Taggart left

Florida Football Insiders

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Aas the Oregon Ducks celebrated a Rose Bowl victory New Year’s night in Pasadena, one angle to think about was the events of the last couple of years, as it relates to Willie Taggart abandoning their program just one year in, but Mario Cristobal staying behind and leading them to great things.

First, the Ducks won a thrilling 28 – 27 addition of the New Year’s Day classic over Wisconsin to cap off a 12 – 2 season. NFL prospect quarterback Justin Herbert threw for three touchdowns and ran for the eventual game-winning score in the win:

And, off the heels of a Pac-12 Championship upset of Utah a month ago, Cristobal is now “riding high” with the momentum of one of the best football brands in the West.

He posted later on Wednesday night a special thank you to the Duck fans and alumni for now being part of the program and their success:

Interestingly, his connection to come to Eugene was Taggart being hired three years ago at this time. The former USF coach needed someone that understood offense and recruiting and brought the former FIU coach, Cristobal with him to the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon had some success but also suffered five losses, and the next thing you knew Taggart jumped at the chance to take over at Florida State. There were many who reported and believed that Taggart wanted to bring Cristobal and defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, with him to the Seminoles.

However, Oregon AD Rob Mullens was so impressed with Cristobal in the interview process and having seen him up close for  year with the team, that he ended up promoting him to be the head coach. And, he gave Leavitt a fat raise to remain, as the defensive coordinator in Eugene.

And, as it turns out, that sunk Taggart from the very beginning on having two former head coaches to come and help him not only with the X’s and O’s but with recruiting in Florida which they are both Masters at.

Instead, Florida State completely unraveled in just a few short weeks of play in 2018 Cristobal helped the Ducks get to a bowl game.

And, that led to this season and great anticipation as Oregon opened at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium the home of the Cowboys with powerhouse Auburn. Auburn beat the Ducks with a touchdown in the final seconds, but it would be their only loss for the next 10 weeks.

In the meantime, Taggart got himself further in trouble with early-season losses and eventually fired on November 3rd after a 27 – 10 defeat to the Miami Hurricanes at home.

And as we stated above, the Oregon team excelled when it mattered the most establishing itself, again as the team to beat in the Pac-12 with their two postseason wins.

Now, FSU has gone on to replace Taggart with the very successful Memphis coach, Mike Norvell, and there is some optimism about his arrival in the Panhandle.

With Norvell in charge in 2020, the Seminoles will likely open with a win total of 6.5, down a game from last season according to this site here. And, while Norvell is a solid hire, FSU has its usual tough slate next season hosting Clemson and Florida, while facing Miami and Boise State on the road. The Noles are likely to be underdogs in another road date with resurgent Louisville too.

So, coming off a 6-7 year, FSU should consider it a success to have this team over .500 in his first season.

Now, back to Cristobal.

There is an argument that Oregon may not have enjoyed the same success with Taggart as the head coach, as they did with Cristobal taking over. Still, with Herbert at quarterback, it’s very likely that Oregon would have at least had a seven or eight wins season in each of the last couple of years and going to a bowl game again.

Do they go 12-2, win the Pac 12 and eventually, the Rose Bowl with Taggart? That’s a stretch to believe after how dismally he coached in Tallahassee.

And, since his firing, Taggart scrambled to find the head coaching job at Conference USA, Florida Atlantic, while Cristobal is looking at a significant raise to be at a Powerhouse Pac-12 program after a Rose Bowl win.

It’s a perfect example of a cliche in sports, that: “sometimes the best move, is one that you don’t make.”

Taggart should have never left Oregon and Cristobal was smart not to.

And, eventually, he ended up the head coach.

A head coach who was holding up a Rose Bowl trophy with his team in Pasadena Wednesday night

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Florida State Seminoles

FSU turned in one last awful 2019 performance in Sun Bowl

Florida Football Insiders

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Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

If Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve afternoon Sun Bowl was supposed to be a tone-setter for 2020 and new head coach Mike Norvell, the Seminoles once again failed.

A six turnover day, including the go-ahead pick-6 being thrown by quarterback James Blackman, basically summed up the entire season as Arizona State beat FSU 20 – 14 in El Paso, TX.

The Noles could not take advantage of breaks and opportunities they were given early to put points on the board and that would come back to haunt them at the end.

The now 8 – 5 Sun Devils fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and FSU was set up for an easy touchdown. However, Blackman gave the gift right back, throwing his first of four interceptions on the day in the end zone, and Arizona State avoided giving up any points at all.

Later in the first quarter, FSU had a Ricky Aguayo short field goal blocked keeping them scoreless throughout the first half. Meanwhile, Christian Zendejas kicked three Sun Devil field goals for a 9 – 0 lead at the break.

Finally FSU, finishing 6-7, got something going in the second half using a trick play to help set them up. That’s when backup QB Jordan Travis threw a backwards pass to Blackman behind the line, and he threw back to Travis for an 18 yard gain that put the Seminoles at the 3-yard line.

Backup running back Ontaria Wilson, playing for Cam Akers who’d already declared for the NFL, scored on the next play and for the first Florida State points.

Following an Arizona State punt, lightning struck, when Blackman hit Tamorrion Terry, who raced the rest of the way for a 91 yard touchdown to put FSU up for the first time in the game 14 – 9. But, Zendejas added another field goal with 12 minutes remaining to trim the lead to 14 – 12.

And, that set the stage for more Florida State bumbling and miscues. With FSU back on offense and after picking up a first down, Blackman threw another pick on a play where it looked like the receiver ran the wrong route. ASU’s Willie Hearts ran the INT back 25 yards for a touchdown and the Sun Devils got the two-point conversion for a 20 – 14 lead.

Amazingly, Florida state would get the ball three more times in the final 10 minutes with a chance to get a winning touchdown. But, they lost the ball on downs, then Blackman was intercepted again, and finally, in the final two minutes Terry fumbled after a handoff  with Arizona State’s Tyler Johnson recovering to clinch the game.

It is the first time since the 1975 – 76 seasons that Florida state has finished with back-to-back losing campaigns. The 1976 season was the first for Hall of Fame coach, Bobby Bowden.

And, the Noles can only hope that as the calendar flips at midnight Tuesday night, that they can put the disastrous two-year Willie Taggart era behind them. And, look forward to what the former very successful Memphis coach, Norvell, can bring to rejuvenate things in Tallahassee.

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