When Coach Taggart first came to campus, he was greeted by scores of media, fans, cheer squads, and the Marching Chiefs trumpeting the War Chant. Excitement fueled an atmosphere of hope that top recruiting classes, winning seasons, and championships were just around the corner. All it would take is a little bit of tweaking and the Seminoles would regain their spot atop the ACC. A revamped, fast-tempo offense, and “Lethal Simplicity” would pave the way.
After an electric spring game and what seemed to be an eternal summer, Florida State went into their season opener against Virginia Tech as slight favorites. This was a rare Monday night game in front of the entire nation. The atmosphere at kickoff was electric. The Hokies’ first drive ended in a ten-yard touchdown reception. The Seminoles ensuing drive resulted in a lost fumble and three additional points for the Hokies. Just like that, the Seminoles were down 10-0 to start the Taggart era. The game’s final score? 24-3. The rest is history.
Initially, Coach Taggart was seen positively by fans and local media for several reasons. First of all, he was regarded as a master recruiter who could quickly rebuild the program. In his first class of 2018 – one made more difficult by the first Early Signing Period, included notable players such as Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, Asante Samuel Jr., Amari Gainer, and Keyshawn Helton. The following class brought in Akeem Dent and Dontae Lucas. Alex Hornibrook also transferred from Wisconsin to provide much-needed quarterback depth.Willie’s next class in 2020 would have likely included Jeff Sims, a four-star Quarterback recruit out of Jacksonville. Coach Taggart seemed to be bringing in just enough talent – not overwhelming, but not horrible. But was he going to be able to land more 4 or 5 star recruits without the results on the field?
Taggart was also viewed as someone who could reverse the toxic culture within the locker room. It was believed he could foster a culture where young men could grow into leaders on and off the field. While off the field, the players stayed out of trouble, there were issues on the field.
Finally, Coach Taggart was excited to be the coach of the Seminoles – referring it to as his “Dream Job.” Fans had been dismayed at the lack of effort or care by Jimbo Fisher toward the end of his tenure. Coach Fisher showed that his loyalty to the school did not trump his conflicts with the school’s administration. In contrast, fans could at least count on Coach Taggart putting in a hard effort and restore a sense of pride for the Seminoles.
2018 Season Review
The blowout loss to Virginia Tech was a sign of things to come. This season included a nail biter with FCS opponent Sanford, a thrashing by Syracuse, a heart breaker in Miami, and a shellacking by the Gators at home to close the season. The Noles finished with a 5-7 record and did not qualify for a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. There was very little week to week improvement by the Seminoles and the team had seemed to quit by the time the Gators rolled into town.
The Seminoles finished the season with a dismal 21.9 points per game (113th). The team also finished 128th on 3rd down conversion percentage vs FBS opponents. To top it all off, the Seminoles were the most penalized FBS team – 9.2 times per game.
2019 Season Review (So Far)
The offseason following the historically bad 2018 campaign saw a few changes. Walt Bell, the offensive coordinator, landed a head coaching position with the UMASS Minutemen. It was later announced that Kendal Briles would be the new OC. This was met with mixed feelings due his father’s scandal at Baylor. The hire would allow Willie to take a more CEO-type role as head coach while Briles ran the offense that Willie’s “Gulf Coast Offense” was based upon. Fans were also delighted when Taggart brought former star receiver Ron Dugans to coach the receivers. We all looked for marked improvement in Tallahassee
Early on, Florida State was a team of two halves. After putting up 31 on Boise State in the first half of the season opener, the Broncos shut out an anemic Seminole offense while their freshman QB Hank Bachmeier orchestrated a furious comeback. The Seminoles wound up losing 36-31. Disappointed fans were rewarded with more of the same against Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks gifted the game to FSU via a missed extra point in overtime, 45-44. It felt more like a loss than a win. Following another narrow loss to Virginia, the 1-2 Noles went on to have solid games against Louisville and NC State before being demolished by Clemson (as expected).
Writing On the Wall
After a close loss to Wake Forest – in which the Seminoles had an embarrassing closing sequence – Seminole Nation could see the writing on the wall for Willie Taggart. He was going to have to #DoSomething against Miami if he was to be stick around. The Seminoles and Canes went into the week with identical 4-4 records. The Canes had a stiff defense, but their offense looked anemic in many games. Ultimately, a porous offensive line was FSU’s undoing, losing 27-10.
The pink slip came the very next afternoon. It came as a bit of a shock to see Willie Taggart fired, but then again, it really wasn’t that surprising. A steady stream of false starts and illegal formations highlighted an undisciplined team that handicapped the Seminoles. When they did line up and snap cleanly, the blocking was often non-existent. The defense was also problematic and showed an inability to get teams off the field in a quick manner – allowing drives to go on much longer and tiring themselves out.
It’s possible that, given the time and tools, Taggart could have turned things around. It could be that the investors in the program were too impatient. Or perhaps the poor on-field product and lack of quick improvement warranted the removal. It’s hard to say. While majority of fans seem to believe it is best that Willie is gone, some still believe he could have made a great coach. Unfortunately for Coach Taggart, none of that matters. There is one thing that is clear. The university better think long and hard about who their next coach will be. It’s going to take more than a talented recruiter to turn this ship around.