One thing is for sure, whether you’re talking about personal relationships or even, a school is trying to get over a football coach who left things worse than when he got there, it is always easy to “blame the ex.” However, it doesn’t really serve FSU to dwell much more on what Jimbo Fisher did or did not leave them with, when he departed at the end of 2017.
Rather, the focus should be on how quickly can second-year coach Willie Taggart restore them into a national power….. IF he can at all?
National college football writer Matt Hayes wrote a freelance article for Bleacher Report that published on Monday and it in part blamed Fisher for a good portion of the recent problems in Tallahassee and at the same time, propped up Taggart, as a guy that can save the situation:
— Matt Hayes (@MattHayesCFB) June 24, 2019
Hayes wrote about FSU’s quick decline in the 2017 season. And, unmistakably, Fisher had all but “mentally checked out” and stop recruiting, while looking to get the Texas A&M job by November of that season. And Hayes took it a step further quoting unnamed assistants about how the culture had become for the Noles:
“We were Clemson before Clemson,” a former assistant to Fisher at FSU says. “We were the team that had caught Alabama and was getting ready to pass them.
“Then it all fell off the cliff.”
Then, Hayes pinpointed an easy target to further blame with the treatment of former Heisman and National Championship winning QB Jameis Winston writing from another unnamed coach on Fisher’s staff at Florida State and more:
“Look, entitlement only gets that way if you allow it. You want to know why some kids thought they could do whatever they wanted? It was allowed.”
For no one more so than Winston, whom three former assistants all named as the key figure in the program’s collapse. (Winston’s representation declined to provide him for comment on this story.) A Heisman Trophy winner, the foundation of FSU’s 27 wins in 28 games in 2013 and 2014 and the eventual No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Winston’s FSU career was marked by off-field issues.
Among them was a rape allegation that was never criminally prosecuted but led to the university paying $950,000 to settle a Title IX lawsuit. And then an embarrassing citation for shoplifting crab legs. And then early in the second of Winston’s two seasons played at FSU, he was suspended for one game by the university after making “offensive and vulgar” comments while standing on a table.
Winston actually dressed and showed up on the field for warm-ups for the game he was to be out, beginning to work through the team’s typical routine. Fisher walked over to Winston and argued with his star quarterback about his presence on the field. Winston eventually left and came back in street clothes and his jersey to join the Seminoles on the sideline. After the game, Fisher explained away the incident with a ham-handed statement about “a miscommunication between us and the locker room.”
That moment, one former FSU assistant coach says, was when the doors of entitlement swung wide open.”
Yes, Florida State still had a solid 2016 season, but it definitely had signs that cracks had formed. Louisville and, eventual Heisman winner Lamar Jackson torched the Noles for 63 points in a September game, Clemson also defeated them in Tallahassee and FSU failed to make, much less win the ACC Title Game. Still, they won the Orange Bowl at the end of that year and everything outwardly appeared on track.
It all unraveled right away in 2017 the huge showdown opening game in Atlanta with Alabama when QB Deondre Francois was lost for he season with a patellar tendon tear in his left knee. That left FSU with only true freshman QB James Blackman to turn to, and he struggled to get up to speed of big time college football. He could not. And FSU suffered through it’s worst seasons in almost 40 years (5-6 in early December) before Fisher left.
FSU’s new athletics director, Dave Coburn, defended Taggart repeatedly in the Hayes item and promises improvement in all areas, including academics. FSU was dead last in APR academic rankings for the Power Five conferences a year ago. Most of that was on Fisher’s watch.
So, Taggart, who had already built staffs at Western Kentucky, USF and for one year at Oregon was brought in to bring Florida State back into prominence, including with recruiting.
Yet, as we documented over the two recruiting classes that Taggart has overseen, FSU failed to sign a significant QB in either one of them. That’s almost unforgivable for a program the stature of Florida State and it’s on Taggart and former offensive coordinator Walt Bell and current one, Kendal Briles for that short coming.
FSU did get Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook to help compete for this year, but it remains to be seen how much he will help the offense.
Still, Hayes put in his final analysis that Taggart, eventually turned around Western Kentucky, USF and had Oregon back on track in his only year at 7-5. He then got these comments directly from the embattled coach:
“I saw it when [Francois] went down with an injury (Alabama game) and the entire team was crushed,” Taggart says. “I look for those red flags, those things that show you it’s a problem on and off the field. I see other teams now, and I think, ‘I guarantee this is what’s going on there.'”
He pauses and thumps his knuckles on the big oak table in the big office that overlooks Doak Campbell Stadium.
“Then you see a team that’s winning,” he says, his voice rising. “They love each other. They care for each other. They’re having fun. They create it.
“We’re far from a finished product, but it’s coming. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
So don’t blame Willie Taggart for how we got to this point.
He’s just getting started.”
Time will tell if Taggart and Florida State can pull out of the 5-7 tailspin of a year ago and turn it around.
One thing is clear: blaming Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston, who are both long gone in 2019, isn’t going to help them improve.
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