On Monday, I put forth the idea that if Florida State doesn’t have a clear home-run coaching hire to make after firing Willie Taggart, FSU shouldn’t think it has to select a permanent replacement.
Florida State could give Jim Leavitt the 2020 season – at a bargain rate, with no large buyout and no massive up-front commitments of money – as an audition for the permanent job in 2021 and beyond. Leavitt would get a chance to prove whether he is the right man for the job.
If he whipped the 2020 Seminoles into shape, give him the keys for the next few years and THEN pay him more money.
Florida State could save some money next year, so that it could either compensate Leavitt generously if he succeeds, or offer big money to a replacement for 2021 if Leavitt fails next year. Florida State would use a one-year bridge plan to gather options and achieve some cost savings.
Here is the counterpoint: Florida State needs a home-run coach sooner rather than later. It needs a strong, prepared figure to take hold of this program and build it back.
I don’t disagree that if FSU has a home-run coach, it should hire him and ditch the Leavitt bridge plan.
However: IS there a home-run coach who will come to Tallahassee at this time, under these circumstances?
Will Brent Venables leave Clemson for the Tigers’ foremost (long-term, not 2019) competitor in the ACC Atlantic Division? I doubt it.
If Venables is willing to come, I think his body of work – the quality of the work itself, but also how consistent Venables has been this decade – makes him a home-run choice. Yet, would he coach for a Clemson rival? Is FSU truly the job he has been waiting for? Color me skeptical.
Is Matt Rhule, who made a profound commitment to Baylor when the program was depleted, going to leave Waco for Tallahassee? Maybe… but why would Rhule (above) go to Baylor, under terrible circumstances, but be currently unbeaten and then leave before he had enough time to lift the Bears to the top of the conference?
Let’s assume Oklahoma beats Baylor later this month. Would Rhule leave behind unfinished business, or would he try to conquer Lincoln Riley in future seasons?
I see Venables and Rhule as the two best coaches Florida State could reasonably get.
Should Florida State force those coaches to say no? Absolutely Administrators in charge of the coaching search have to make sure the best candidates turn them down.
This is where the coaching search becomes especially fascinating… and tricky.
Does FSU really want to gamble on P.J. Fleck? Minnesota has to play Penn State, then Iowa and Wisconsin, in November. Minnesota hasn’t played Michigan or Ohio State this season. The Golden Gophers do not have high-end wins.
If you really are interested in a home-run hire, don’t you want a coach with home-run wins? Fleck could be great, but is he at that top-tier level befitting a home-run coach? Not yet. Beat Penn State and Wisconsin first. Then, we can revisit this discussion.
Gus Malzahn? Gus at his best is brilliant, but Auburn fans could tell you that “Good Gus” occasionally appears. He doesn’t show up every season. Florida State can and should do better.
I could mention several other names, but I don’t feel I need to. Here is the bottom line: If FSU is turned down by the home-run coaches on the board, it can’t settle for a double.
If FSU can’t land a home-run coach, that is precisely why the Leavitt one-year bridge plan makes sense, in addition to the cost-savings angle.
Let’s say Baylor loses to Oklahoma and Texas this November. The Bears finish their season 10-2, but still a notch below the big boys in the Big 12. The Leavitt one-year bridge plan enables FSU to evaluate Rhule in 2020. Maybe he manages to beat OU and/or Texas and win the Big 12.
Then, FSU could hire him if Leavitt’s performance elicits significant doubts.
Apply the same method to Fleck at Minnesota. Maybe he won’t beat Penn State or Wisconsin this year, but he figures it out in 2020. Then you can hire him with more of an assurance that he can maximize talent.
In conclusion, the Leavitt one-year bridge plan is not being presented as the only plan, or the obvious plan. My emphasis is that a one-year bridge plan is better than hiring a coach one cannot be sure of.
It is better for Florida State, at the end of 2019, to use a one-year bridge plan than to hire a coach it thinks MIGHT be able to do a great job, but whose credentials don’t make him a stone-cold certainty to win big in Tallahassee.
The last coach Florida State hired fit that description. His name was Willie Taggart.
If you fire Taggart, you can’t replace him with someone similar.
If you can get Brent Venables or, someone like Rhule or Fleck, who proven themselves by winning at multiple programs, by all means do so.
If you CAN’T, a bridge plan easily beats a coach you’re not completely sure about.
Cristobal Oregon Rose Bowl win reminder of what Taggart left
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:
Justin Herbert showing he has wheels too 💨 pic.twitter.com/sgeEfZjuGj
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2020
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:
— Mario Cristobal (@coach_cristobal) January 2, 2020
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
FSU turned in one last awful 2019 performance in Sun Bowl
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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