The Daily Nole

Column: Serious Changes Are Needed, But How Long Will Taggart Get?

Mitch White/FSU athletics

Starting the season 1-2 with a blowout loss to Syracuse has Florida State football in an existential crisis. Whether you place blame on injuries, coaching, system change, or any other number of factors, the consensus is that the current situation is untenable. Even the most optimistic fans are admitting that head coach Willie Taggart needs to plug the holes quickly.

Before the season began, pretty much everyone agreed that Taggart would get three years minimum to prove what he can do. Even if Year 1 didn’t go as planned, he would have ample time to correct the issues and get his system running on all cylinders.

No one really thought about the “Doomsday Scenario”.

It seemed so speculative that it wasn’t worth considering. Florida State had too much talent, too much depth to fall victim to the injury plague. Even if there were a few unfortunate developments, the Seminoles had enough in the tank to achieve bowl-eligibility.

Now, with a 2-10 record legitimately in play, it’s fair game to discuss how long Taggart and staff will receive to get their system up and running.

Blaming them for the current state of the offensive line is not rational and unfairly absolves the previous staff of their blame. There is a lack of talent, development, and health which lowers the ceiling to bowl-eligibility at best. The former two factors are all on former offensive line coach Rick Trickett and Jimbo Fisher, Taggart’s predecessor, while the latter is a truly random variable.

That being said — coaches who come close to their ceiling typically last longer than others. That’s self explanatory. Taggart can only do so much to plan around the line, but he’s also the head of a team with plenty of talent at every other position besides offensive line and linebackers. Completely changing his system should not be the next move, but exploiting advantages elsewhere should be obvious.

College football head coaches are in an environment of immediate expectations. It’s not like previous decades where coaches typically got four or five years to build a program. Nowadays, most get three, and if they aren’t reaching their ceiling by then, they’re out. It’s a cutthroat sport and even Taggart cannot avoid the obvious pressure put upon him. One offseason’s worth of goodwill has already evaporated before the season is halfway over.

“…our fans have every right to have high expectations of our program and I can assure you that no one has higher expectations than I do,” Taggart said on Monday. “We have a proud history and tradition of football at FSU and it is on our shoulders to carry on the torch and our fans, students, alumni, former players deserve a team that plays better than what we have so far this season”

So let’s play the hypothetical game. If FSU wins less than five games this year, whether it be 4-8, 3-9, 2-10, or (gasp) 1-11, how long will this staff be in Tallahassee?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: barring a legitimate off-the-field scandal, it’s almost impossible to see Taggart getting fired after one year. The only way that happens is if FSU loses every single remaining contest by at least three scores. That would also cause the recruiting class to completely tank.

Still, the absolute earliest Taggart would get fired is the middle of 2019, and that’d require a losing streak to open the year. Florida State is not a program which can deal with $20 million buyouts easily. It simply does not have the money for that.

As it stands, Taggart is going to get 2019 to show improvement. Should he make a bowl game or beyond, he would then get 2020 as a “prove it” year to show a nationally competitive team. Again, injuries could derail this at any moment, but the idea is that once your recruiting kicks into high gear, you’re more prepared to deal with them.

That’s where Taggart’s saving grace might come from. His 2019 recruiting class will probably suffer if things continue going south, but the talent already assembled should make an immediate impact. That includes blue-chip offensive linemen Dontae Lucas and Charles Cross, and the Seminoles likely have one more top-150 guy coming in.

Remember that the Seminoles did manage to sign four other offensive linemen in the 2018 class: 4-star guard Christian Meadows, 3-star tackle Christian Armstrong, 3-star tackle Jalen Goss, and 3-star tackle Chaz Neal. All of those guys are projects and certainly not the type of players to throw in to the starting lineup for a desperation year if they’re not ready.

The offensive line won’t be seeing radical improvement until at least 2020. The upside is that starting in 2019, there should be a resemblance of depth among all the positions. Guards won’t be playing tackle and newly converted defensive tackles won’t be in the 2-deep. Alec Eberle and Derrick Kelly are gone for sure, while others will be processed. It still won’t be a good situation but it won’t require musical chairs to figure it out.

Meanwhile, all the skill positions and the defense in general looks well-stocked at the moment. Considering how defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett’s unit has looked just three games in to 2018, his 2019 unit could be elite. It’s a matter of the offense catching up to it and helping turn masterful defensive performances into victories.

All this to say, 2018 is shaping up to be a serious drag on the Taggart era. FSU as a program is not in a position where missing a bowl two seasons in a row should be acceptable. This season hasn’t finished yet so we don’t know if that will come true, but it’s the likeliest result so far.

Everyone accepts that a serious culture change is needed and that various position groups need to be rebuilt. That can be achieved without absolutely bottoming out for consecutive seasons. Again, if the system can be completely done in for two years because of poor offensive line play, then the system itself is lacking.

Expecting title contention for 2019 is unreasonable. Expecting a bowl game is not. As long as Taggart can reach that benchmark next year, he will absolutely get 2020 to prove himself. But with the way 2018 is shaping up, it’s a lot more tenuous than it first appeared.

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