The Daily Nole

Manic Monday: What the Hell Just Happened?

Jeremy Esbrandt/D'Vel Photography/FSU athletics

Well…that certainly didn’t go as planned.

In case you were under a rock all of Sunday, welcome back to the real world, where Florida State football has done the unthinkable and fired head coach Willie Taggart after a crushing 27-10 loss to Miami on Saturday.

Though that’s not the real reason for the firing.

The loss to Miami was in the same group as the other 12 losses of his tenure — losses that led to FSU missing a bowl game for the first time in 37 years, one of the worst recruiting classes in two decades, and a total cratering of program perception.

We have a lot of thoughts about how it all went down. Here’s what we’re going to say for now:

Taggart is a great example of how a CEO-style coach fails. The team/program needs a solid foundation to build from, with coaches who work towards building up their respective groups. The national title contention doesn’t happen immediately, and some coaches hired at the beginning won’t stay.

But that’s okay, because they’re supposed to be constantly progressing and working towards a baseline of performance that allows the next coach to have something to work with. Taggart switching his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach after one year wasn’t the issue.

The issue was that he flopped on the first two hires so badly that 2018 looks like it was just a wasted year. Most glaring, in hindsight, was the case of former offensive line coach Greg Frey. Frey elected to focus on bringing in new players rather than trying to build up a position group that simply had no talent worth anything. Frey was probably correct in his assessment.

Look at current coach Randy Clements for proof. He is doing the best he can to coach up the talent currently on roster and try to maximize what they can get out of guys like Abdul Bello, Mike Arnold, Jauan Williams, etc. They’ve made legitimate improvement, but most of the players on the roster have reached their ceiling already. This is as good as it’s going to get with them.

Where he failed was the actual “bringing in new players” part. Florida State had four main targets for the offensive line: Dontae Lucas, Charles Cross, Evan Neal, and Will Putnam. Lucas signed with FSU and is turning out to be perhaps the best lineman currently on roster. Cross committed to FSU and then eventually decommitted and signed with Mississippi State. Will Putnam was favored to FSU for 99 percent of the process, before FSU faltered and he signed with Clemson. Evan Neal simply wanted to go to Alabama more.

So FSU got a quarter of its top targets and had no backup plans — the exact opposite of building up a unit to competency. Add in the fact that Frey’s two main recruits were Charles Cross and Will Putnam, and you come to the conclusion that Frey essentially did not coach and subsequently failed on the recruiting trail. That’s more than just a bad hire.

That is a made-me-lose-my-own-job type of hire.

If given enough time, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and offensive line coach Randy Clements would have a pretty formidable unit. They’re doing about the best they can with the current offensive line, and one imagines that bringing in a new group of players would yield even better results. The problem is they’re working with an offense that is behind schedule and lost a year of development.

That type of mistake is now on the epitaph of the Willie Taggart era at Florida State. If you cannot get that foundation set, and that foundation causes you to lose easily winnable games, then you simply aren’t justifying your continued employment.

We at The Daily Nole thought the Taggart hire was positive. We didn’t think he’d immediately contend for a title, but we did expect growth and a plan for addressing FSU’s glaring problems that were left to him by the previous staff.

Through 21 games, it never materialized. The original plan failed, and the backup plan had to be installed too late. It has left Florida State at 4-5 with a bowl game in question. If you recall, I wrote before the season that 2019 would be rougher than most fans anticipated. In fact, I wrote that 6-6 and 7-5 were the two most likely records. The former remains true.

What I did not anticipate was the continued bad game management decisions and inability to remain consistent on the defensive side of the ball. They might meet the expectations I set, but didn’t take the route which I thought they would.

We’d be remiss to not point out how Taggart still had good developments off the field. Everyone knows the Academic Progress Rate situation that threatened potential sanctions if not corrected immediately. By all accounts, players are doing better in the classroom, and over the next couple of years, that score will continue to rise thanks to Taggart’s commitment.

The situation has also improved in the legal realm. Besides one problem player from a previous regime, Taggart’s team has by and large stayed out of legal trouble. He set the tone early that the perception of Florida State football in the community needed some correction in that particular area. He stuck to it, and all fans should be thankful for him instilling that accountability.

We’re in uncharted waters now. This is truly unlike anything that Florida State has dealt with in almost four decades. At least with the Jimbo Fisher saga, it wasn’t a firing — it has another school backing up the dump truck to hire yours. Firing Taggart brings a whole other level to the decision making. This administration is tasked with finding candidates who want to come to a school who just fired a coach less than two years into his tenure.

Buckle up.

Clint Eiland is the lead writer for The Daily Nole. Follow Clint on Twitter @ClintEiland. 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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