The Daily Nole

Hot Take Tuesday: In Short FSU Tenure, Willie Taggart Has Averted More Disasters Than He’s Given Credit For

FSU athletics

Most believe that the 2019 season for Florida State will ultimately define Willie Taggart’s tenure in Tallahassee and they’re probably right.

After arriving with a lot of fan fare, the 2018 campaign saw FSU suffer its first losing season in more than four decades and miss a bowl for the first time since 1981. On its face, the 5-7 season looks like a complete disaster — and it largely was — but at this point in Taggart’s young tenure, things could have been a lot worse.

The less-than-ideal situation that Taggart inherited from Jimbo Fisher has been discussed here and elsewhere, so there’s no reason to go into too much detail about an offensive line that couldn’t block, cultural rot and an Academic Progress Rating on a highway to the sanction zone (that’s for you, Top Gun fans). Despite those difficulties, Taggart has managed to lure big-name recruits and coaches off-the-field. On the field, 2018 could have been a lot worse than it was.

A 5-7 season has a way to erase a lot of good early memories, but keep in mind where FSU stood from a recruiting standpoint following Fisher’s late 2017 departure. After a slew of decommitments, the Seminoles sat at just No. 65 in the team recruiting rankings, according to the 247Sports Composite. When all was said and done, FSU finished just outside the top 10 at No. 11 with the top recruit being eventual Freshman All-American safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, who had previously gone without a Florida State scholarship offer.

Fresh off a 5-7 season for the 2019 cycle, there was an understandable dip in recruiting as the Seminoles finished just No. 19, per the Composite — their worst since 2007 — with big-time prospects such as offensive lineman Will Putnam and quarterback Sam Howell slipping through FSU’s grasps. When all was said and done however, nearly half of FSU’s 20 signees were blue chips. Taggart and staff also managed to hold off college football’s premier power in Alabama in bids for 4-star cornerback Akeem Dent and defensive end Quashon Fuller — the team’s top and fifth-rated signees, respectively.

Missing out on Howell left FSU without a quarterback for a second straight cycle and just two scholarship signal-callers on the roster. Even though FSU has parted ways with last season’s starter, Deondre Francois, the Seminoles have used the transfer portal to build much-needed depth at the position. FSU has managed to add an experienced starter in Alex Hornibrook, from Wisconsin, to compete with projected starter James Blackman and Louisville transfer Jordan Travis. Taggart and staff have also added former Western Michigan quarterback Wyatt Rector as a walk-on.

More than a week prior to this past weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” event, the fan base had begun to sour on Taggart and staff with some fans stooping to the level of calling out certain assistants on social media. The event culminated in more than 60 prospects in attendance and three commitments before the weekend was over. Rampant speculation and “ring, ring, ring” tweets from the FSU head coach suggest that the Seminoles are not done cashing in and could soon be in or near the top 10 of the Composite team rankings.

On the field, virtually no one was pleased with 5-7. The Seminoles blew their largest lead ever in a controversial 28-27 loss at Miami last October, which ultimately kept them from extending the bowl streak. As close as FSU was to finishing with six wins, it wasn’t much further away from finishing with just two.

In three of FSU’s five wins last season, the Seminoles were forced to rally from a fourth-quarter deficit with the winning score in each contest coming in the game’s final 4:03. FSU trailed by double-digits in two of those three contests and in another contest against Wake Forest. A 37-19 win over Northern Illinois last season was the lone game where the Seminoles not did not trail last season. As rough as 5-7 was, finishing 2-10 would have been much more difficult for Taggart and crew to bounce back from.

Not to slight anyone wearing garnet polo shirts on the sidelines on Saturdays, but it’s no secret that Taggart’s 2018 staff was not the group he intended to have when he made the move from Oregon to Tallahassee. His former assistant, Mario Cristobal, was given the reigns as the head coach in Eugene and convinced defensive coordinator and former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt to stay with him.

Whereas Fisher took flak for being too loyal to under-performing assistants, Taggart was able to upgrade his staff this offseason with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, wide receivers coach Ron Dugans and offensive line coach Randy Clements.

In four years as a coordinator, Briles’ offenses have ranked in the top 10 nationally three times. Clements is a former position coach of the year in the Big 12 and Dugans has shown the ability to recruit and develop receivers. Taggart also moved defensive ends coach Mark Snyder, a former coordinator, to take over for Alonzo Hampton running the special teams.

Taggart’s desire to succeed at FSU isn’t hard to see given his $1 million donation to facilities and his emphasis on academics. How history will remember Taggart’s tenure in Tallahassee will ultimately come down to how the team performs on the field and no one knows that better than the head coach himself.

With FSU coming off its worst season in over four decades, arch-rival Florida coming off a New Year’s Six bowl victory and division foe Clemson as reigning national champions, it may not seem like the greatest time ever to be a Seminole. When one looks at the entire scope of the situation however, things could be much worse.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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