You are a Florida State fan. You are reading a story with the phrase, “Sark Salvation Moment.”
What the heck does that mean?
Steve Sarkisian is currently the Falcons offensive coordinator (above) in the NFL. Sark used to coach at Alabama, Washington and USC in the college game. What does he have to do with Florida State. More precisely, what does he have to do with the news that Walt Bell, the 34-year-old offensive coordinator for the Seminoles, left to become the head coach at the University of Massachusetts on Monday evening?
I spend part of my year in Seattle. Sarkisian did get a small bread crumb of credit in the Emerald City for lifting Washington from the depths of the Tyrone Willingham era (and the “Rotten Apple Cup” season of 2008, when Washington went 0-12). However, once he did that, he could never lift U-Dub above a modest threshold.
Oregon is Washington’s most bitter rival in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State is the little brother who never offers a real threat. Oregon is the tough, smart, shrewd neighbor who can ruin everything. When Oregon fans are happy, you know Washington is in trouble.
Oregon fans loved to taunt Washington fans with the label, “SEVEN-WIN SARK! SEVEN-WIN SARK!”
The label became a mantra which stuck. Washington fans got to a point where they wanted Sark out. They needed someone to take the program to the next level.
When Lane Kiffin was fired on the tarmac by athletic director Pat Haden in 2013, USC needed a new coach. A man named Ed Orgeron was in the mix, and he wanted to get the permanent job. Haden didn’t give it to him.
Enter Kiffin’s former colleague on Pete Carroll’s offensive staff in the USC glory days of the 2000s.
Sark knew the right people inside USC headquarters at Heritage Hall. He got the job. He left Washington on his own. He wasn’t fired. He coveted the USC job, and USC coveted him — one of several mistakes USC leadership has made this decade.
USC’s stupidity and Sark’s own vision of being The Man in Los Angeles gave Washington the ability to hire Chris Petersen.
The rest, as they say — in Seattle and Los Angeles and anywhere else — is history.
That was Washington football’s Sark Salvation Moment.
Walt Bell bolting for UMass could be the same for the Seminoles.
Willie Taggart was in position to do really well in Year 2 at Oregon in 2018, had he not left for Florida State. One key reason: Jim Leavitt was his defensive coordinator. Taggart had the right assistants in centrally important positions. A glaring question mark — and ultimately, a deficit — on this 2018 FSU staff was Bell. He wasn’t the only problem with the staff, but he stood out because of the up-and-down play of two quarterbacks who had both shown considerable promise in previous seasons under Jimbo Fisher, Deondre Francois and James Blackman.
Taggart has a track record of fixing programs — he completed the fixer-upper plan at Western Kentucky and South Florida. He was in a good position to polish up Oregon in Year 2 had he stayed. He came to Florida State after only one year in Eugene because this was his big chance to coach one of the blueblood programs in college football.
You would think that Taggart is experienced enough to give the offensive keys to an elite offensive coordinator. Instead he turned to Bell, who did not have knockout credentials or soaring accomplishments.
Being young isn’t a problem — look at Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams Coaching chops, however, are revealed or disproved relatively quickly, and very little Bell showed in 2018 pointed to a strong and certain future for Florida State’s offense, especially at quarterback.
Taggart has been given a second chance to get his OC slot right. It is too late for Kliff Kingsbury, but with the coaching carousel in full spin, plenty of attractive choices should be available. No, not anyone who has behaved horribly (think Art Briles or Bobby Petrino) — there can be plenty of good choices removed from that subgroup of talented but tainted individuals.
Taggart knows he has to fix a lot of problems in 2019. This is his Sark Salvation Moment… IF he gets this hire right.
No pressure, Willie. Walt Bell toils for UMass… and hopefully, the bell won’t yet toll for Taggart’s tenure in Tally.
Mixed comments from FSU coaches about 2019 O-Line
Florida State is one of the few remaining state schools that have yet to name their starting quarterback. There is currently a battle for the spot among three guys, with returner James Blackman seemingly leading the pack. But more importantly on Willie Taggart’s list of things to sort out before the start of the season, is how his eventual QB is going to be protected?
And there’s been a lot of talk recently about what to expect from the Seminoles struggling O-Line.
Taggart has already made a couple major moves, with both having having yet to be seen if they’ll pay off, in letting go of former OL coach Greg Frey and having to hire a new OC after Walt Bell took the UMass job after just one season with the Noles.
He’s replaced them with Randy Clements at OL and Kendal Briles at OC.
At an event on Tuesday, Taggart was asked about the state of his tattered O-Line, and he gave a response that fans can only hope will be proven true.
Willie Taggart here talking to the Tallahassee Quarterback Club. He says he would pick the offensive line as the most improved #FSU position group and gets an ovation of applause from the crowd.
— Curt Weiler (@CurtMWeiler) August 20, 2019
Briles and Clements could be the guys that resurrect a line that was far too unorganized and disjointed last season. In 2018, FSU ranked 114th in points per game, 129th in yards per play and 118th in sacks allowed, and only averaged 2.79 yards per carry.
At Houston, Clements and Briles produced an offensive line in 2018 that allowed the Cougars to average 43.9 points per game, ranking fifth in the nation, and 512.3 yards of total offense.
However, Briles also spoke to the media on Tuesday, and while still positive on the future of his offense, insinuated that the line might continue to be a weak spot for the Noles this season.
Even if the OL isn't great, this offense should do damage
"You can hide some weaknesses with tempo," FSU OC Kendal Briles said. “You know, if Marvin Wilson lines up and gets his cleats in the ground and blowing snot bubbles…" (watch to hear the rest.)https://t.co/7YT17nLsyN pic.twitter.com/ZCdkrpWFhJ
— Warchant.com (@Warchant) August 21, 2019
For fans, this could either be encouraging or worrisome.
But, there is potential in some new additions to the line.
As a part of the 19th ranked class in the Nation, the Noles signed several new offensive linemen in the hope of a turnaround at a spot that has hurt them over the past few seasons. The most heralded one is four star recruit, Dontae Lucas of IMG Academy in Bradenton, and there’s also JuCo three star left tackle, Jay Williams of Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA.
While it remains to be seen if any of them can be a “plug and play guy” to play immediately for 2019, Clements could be the guy to get the most out of the current group.
FSU visited by Dungy and Brooks in Bradenton
FSU has spent the week practicing at IMG in Bradenton. On Wednesday, head coach Willie Taggart invited former NFL head coach Tony Dungy and Seminole legend Derrick Brooks spend some time with the team and offer a few words of wisdom after practice.
Had a wonderful time visiting the @FSUFootball team today with @DBrooks55 We talked about developing a positive culture of excellence and unity. Derrick talked about how to be a well rounded student and teammate. Thanks Coach Taggart for giving us the opportunity. https://t.co/yrWsJUbMJK
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) August 14, 2019
Taggart wanted the guys to give his payers some insight on what it takes to be a part of a turn around team.
The former Super Bowl winning head coach told the team team that, if they want to see success on the field, they’re going to have to come together to do it.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) August 15, 2019
He ended with what it really means to be a champion, and having that championship mentality goes far beyond what you can do for your school on the field.
“Being a champion isn’t just being the best you can be on the field. Thats part of it. But it’s being the best teammate you can be, its being the best student you can be, person you can be and impact everyone. We didn’t bring you to Florida State just to win a national champion ship…Be the best person you can be for this university, for your family for your teammates, and you’ll leave a legacy here at Florida State.
You guys wanted to come to Florida State because of what these guys did. There are kids now who are going to want to come to Florida State because of what guys do. And that’s the power, that’s the fun, that’s what you’re going to really remember.”
Brooks then joined him for an extended Q&A session and told the group of guys, including his son, sophomore DeCalon Brooks, about what goes into a championship culture.
“It doesn’t take talent to have a championship culture, right? It takes effort. It takes awesome. No excuses, no explanations.” And mirroring the sentiment of Dungy he added, “that championship culture has to extend itself off the field…and we have the ingredients to be a championship-culture program.”
Coach Dungy has had a relationship with the Seminoles for a while, as Bobby Bowden was one of his role models when he began his career in coaching. And, in his time in Tampa with the Bucs, he coached two FSU greats in Brooks and Warrick Dunn.
Dungy and Brooks were foundational pieces of turning the Buccaneer program around and instilling a championship culture in Tampa Bay.
There’s no doubt that Tallahassee is ready for the return of a championship culture.