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Florida State Looking For a Fresh Start

By Dave Holcomb
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Who are some potential replacements for Florida State's recently let go head coach?

Unfortunately for the 43-year-old coach, the Willie Taggart era peaked the day Florida State hired him.

Outside of the introductory press conference, the exuberance Taggart brought to the program was really only matched on the field during Florida State’s spring game in 2018. After that, it was all downhill even starting with his very first game in Tallahassee.

That reflects just as poorly on former Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher as it does on Taggart. The 43-year-old is still a good coach, but he walked into a near impossible situation to a program that believed their biggest issues from the 2017 season walked out the door when Fisher agreed to a mammoth deal with Texas A&M.

Maybe Taggart should have seen the writing on the wall. The narrative when Fisher left was he departed Florida State because Texas A&M gave him $75 million. Why else would he leave the most historic ACC football program to coach at a school with championship expectations without any prior titles in a division with Nick Saban?

Well, Fisher did see the writing on the wall. His offensive line recruiting slowly eroded the entire program from 2015-17. It resulted in Deondre Francois suffering a season-ending knee injury on a hit in Week 1 of 2017 against Alabama. In addition to offensive line recruiting problems, Fisher didn’t recruit a quality backup quarterback prior to 2017, leaving his team to start freshman James Blackman.

Florida State was bound for a disappointing 2017 even with Francois, but the backup quarterback exasperated every problem. It resulted in a 6-6 finish and forced the Seminoles the embarrassment of rescheduling against Louisiana-Monroe on Championship Saturday just to extend their bowl streak.

That streak ended in Taggart’s first year anyway.

Successful coaches usually do take big steps forward in their second seasons at Power 5 schools. Taggart did not, and that’s why he received the pink slip. But with how far this program has fallen in recent years, 21 games was probably not enough of a sample to judge his true worth.

It’s a moot point now for Taggart, but it’s something Florida State should keep in mind for its next head coach. One and three-quarter seasons is install a better culture.

Speaking of the Seminoles next head coach, let’s take a quick look at five names that will undoubtedly pop up (some already have) in Florida State’s coaching search:

P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers could fall flat on their faces in November and still finish outside the Top 25. Somehow, they made it to November without playing a Power 5 team with a winning conference record. In the final four weeks of the season, Minnesota will face three ranked opponents.

But even if the Golden Gophers go 2-2 this month, Minnesota will reach 10 wins for the first time since 2003. Going into this weekend, Fleck is 20-13 as head coach at Minnesota, and prior to heading to the Twin Cities, he turned around a Western Michigan program, leading them to the Cotton Bowl, in his fourth season.

His experience building programs should be very attractive to Florida State even if he doesn’t have any college coaching experience in Florida.

Lane Kiffin, FAU

Kiffin ultimately failed at Tennessee and USC but that was more than a decade ago. He’s more experienced at 44 years old now and knows the state of Florida having coached at Florida Atlantic the last three seasons.

At FAU, he owns a 22-13 record. Kiffin is a masterful play-caller as well, which has been one of Florida State’s biggest bugaboos the last couple seasons.

Hiring Kiffin would bring a circus because of his past and personality, but there’s a lot to like about his candidates for Florida State too.

Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Satterfield is another program builder, who’s turned around the Cardinals, remarkably, in just one season. Satterfield’s success actually hurts the argument that Taggart deserved more time as Florida State head coach because just a year ago, Bobby Petrino left the Cardinals in absolute shambles, and yet, Satterfield has Louisville projected to make a bowl game in 2019.

Prior to Louisville, Satterfield went 47-16 as head coach at Appalachian State. After a 7-5 first season with the Mountaineers, Appalachian State won at least nine games in his final four seasons.

One reason Florida State might avoid Satterfield, though, is the fact that he only has one year experience at a Power 5 school. Taggart led Oregon to a 7-5 record in his lone season with a Power 5 program prior to his hire at Florida State.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

The first three names on this list are all young and energetic. Hiring any of them would come with the understanding that they will remain at Florida State for decades (if they worked out).

But if the Seminoles want to go in a different direction and hire a more established head coach with more Power 5 experience, Mark Stoops would be a great candidate.

At Kentucky, Stoops has a 40-43 record, but the Wildcats are 38-33 since the start of his second season, and last year, they won 10 games for the first time since 1977. Stoops is also very familiar with recruiting in Florida from his time in the SEC.

Mike Leach, Washington State

Leach is a bit of a wild card candidate. As the saying goes, he marches to the beat of a different drummer, but Leach’s resume speaks for itself.

In 18 seasons at Texas Tech and Washington State, he owns a 137-87 record. After going 12-25 in his first three seasons with Washington State from 2012-14, the Cougars are 41-19 since the start of 2015.

The last time Leach coached in the southeast was as offensive coordinator at Kentucky from 1997-98. That’s not ideal, but prior to 2012, he didn’t have any experience in the Pacific Northwest, either.