The Daily Nole

Taggart Files: New FSU Coach Stacks Up Favorably with Current/Departing “Big 3” Coaches in Recent Years

Clint Eiland/The Daily Nole

For the first time in a long time, few know what to expect from the “Big 3” Florida programs as the calendar turns to 2018.

Both Florida State and Florida are breaking in new head coaches in Willie Taggart and Dan Mullen, respectively. Miami will be entering its third year under head coach Mark Richt. This past season, Richt led the Hurricanes to their first 10-win season since 2003 and their first ACC Championship appearance, but the year ended with Miami on a 3-game losing streak.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Taggart is the least accomplished of the “Big 3”, but take that with a very big grain of salt. While Richt and Mullen have done nice jobs reviving Power 5 programs, Taggart has been pulling programs out of the gutter.

Although he did not coach South Florida in its Birmingham Bowl victory over South Carolina to close the 2016 season, Taggart led the Bulls to a school-record 11 wins and their first-ever top 25 finish during his final season in Tampa. Last season, Taggart took a 4-8 Oregon team and transformed it into a 7-win program prior to leaving for Tallahassee.

In 17 seasons — the first 15 at Georgia — Richt has led his team to an AP top 25 finish on 13 occasions. He’s won two conference titles and five division titles. His teams have reached a bowl game in each year and finished with a losing record just once (in 2010). In major bowl games, his teams are 2-2.

In nine seasons at Mississippi State, Mullen finished in the top 25 three times and had seven winning seasons. The signature season for Mullen in Starkville came in 2014 as the Bulldogs ascended all the way to No. 1 before finishing with 10 wins, an Orange Bowl loss to Georgia Tech and a No. 11 national ranking.

While comparing what Mullen and Richt did in major conferences to Taggart at Western Kentucky, South Florida and one season at Oregon is hardly apples to apples, it should be noted that Taggart has fared well compared to the other two over the last three seasons. He’s also fared well compared to his predecessor in Jimbo Fisher and Mullen’s predecessor, Jim McElwain.

There are plenty of caveats we can point to when discussing the numbers above, but it should be noted that Taggart’s best work numbers-wise has come in the last three seasons, indicating he’s a coach whose stock is ascending. Taggart may be just 47-50 in his career as a head coach, but 25-12 over the last three seasons is as good as Fisher over his final three seasons and that stretch for Fisher included a pair of New Year’s Six bowl appearances.

Taggart’s 25-12 record since 2015 compares favorably to his 13-23 record the three years prior. Mullen was 25-14 in his three prior years. Richt was 30-10 in his three years prior to the numbers listed. Fisher was 39-3. McElwain is the only other coach aside from Taggart listed to do better in his previous three years than the years listed as he went 22-16 at Colorado State from 2012-14.

How Taggart fares at Florida State remains to be seen, but it’s a fair assessment to say the 41-year-old looks like a rising star as far as FBS coaches are concerned. He’s brought programs in Western Kentucky and South Florida from the gutter to respectability and helped revive Oregon, despite being without his starting quarterback for five of his 12 games in Eugene.

Over the last three years, only Richt has fared better than Taggart record-wise when it comes to current and outgoing “Big 3” coaches. Considering the “Big 3” schools combined for three New Year’s Six bowl appearances, three division titles and four 10-win seasons over that stretch, that’s nothing to scoff at.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

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