The Daily Nole

On My Mind Monday: Biggest Strength/Weakness for Each FSU Coaching Candidate

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Florida State football is now entering the crunch time for its head coach search. While nothing is imminent over the next few days, chances are fans will know who the next head coach is by next week.

The list of candidates contains six names that have made all the headlines, and you would probably make a good bit of money if you bet that the next head coach is one of the six we have listed below.

With that in mind, we have gone over those names and evaluated their biggest strength and weakness. The topic is obviously more complex than that duality — but you can get a good overview of what to expect when pointing out the two extremes. If they succeed or fail, it is almost certainly going to be a reason given below.

Note: We have excluded Bob Stoops from the list of candidates, as this article was written after news came out that he was no longer a candidate for the job.

Mark Stoops (Head Coach – Kentucky)

Strength: Knows how to construct a defense
Those who remember Mark Stoops from his stint as Florida State defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2012 should have a positive view of him. His defenses had their weaknesses — and they seemed to always lay an egg once a season — but there’s virtually no one who’d argue they weren’t a unanimous top-10 unit. Stoops’ defenses were physical, aggressive when they needed to be, and loaded with talent that he helped recruit. His Kentucky teams still have good defenses, despite what some of their end-of-year records might suggest. He’s doing the best he can with the recruits he can realistically get at Kentucky. Even then, the Wildcats have a very balanced roster with few holes. Florida State’s current question marks at defensive end and linebacker would not happen with Stoops at the helm. I am quite confident he’d have the Seminoles back to a top-20 unit in little time.

Weakness: Has not shown ability to maintain offense
…on the flip side, Stoops has an undying loyalty to offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, which may prove detrimental down the road. This season is a bit odd since the Wildcats are having to play their star wide receiver at quarterback due to injuries, yet the solution is working fairly well. But the offense didn’t look all that grand before the injuries, and that’s mainly because the Wildcats have struggled to develop a quarterback worth much through the air. That’s on Gran and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw — both of whom Stoops has shown no willingness to move on from. That won’t fly in Tallahassee, and it calls into question whether or not Stoops would adjust his program management to the next level.

Post Facto Update: According to Noles247, Stoops is not considered a candidate for the job anymore.

Matt Campbell (Head Coach – Iowa State)

Strength: Game day preperation and coaching
Anyone who has watched Iowa State in the past few years can see how good of a game day coach Matt Campbell is. Despite being at a school with very little history or resources, Campbell has turned Iowa State into a completely respectable program. His players are very physical and play sound football (he routinely fields one of the least penalized teams in the nation). They don’t get blown out — even by teams with massive talent advantages — and sometimes they’ve actually beat those teams. In four years, he’s notched three victories over top-10 opponents. Two of those opponents were top-5. His coaching acumen is not in question.

Weakness: Culture fit questions
So far Campbell has only coached at two stops: Toledo and Iowa State. Neither of these programs are anywhere close in stature to Florida State. That means that his commitment to high-level recruiting, method of program management, and habits when dealing with media are all up in the air. It’s a different environment in Tallahassee, and it’s one that will expect high-level results sooner rather than later. Campbell will need to recruit with the big boys and shore up position groups like never before if he wants those results.

James Franklin (Head Coach – Penn State)

Strength: Knows how to build a program
There is a very select group of coaches who can say they succeeded at Vanderbilt. James Franklin is one of those. He took advantage of a reeling SEC East and brought Vanderbilt to program milestones once thought impossible in the modern age of college football. He knew his limits and he worked around them. Then he went to Penn State and found a program yearning for stability. It took a couple of years to get his system installed, but Franklin has set up the Nittany Lions for success, thanks to some dynamite recruiting and addressing staff turnover head-on. We’ve seen enough to conclude that Franklin could right the ship at FSU as well.

Weakness: Question of ceiling
Franklin is the epitome of a good — not great — coach. He has brought Penn State back to a level of respectability not seen since 2009. His teams will always be squarely in the Big Ten race and fighting for a New Year’s Six bowl most years. But if these past couple of years have shown anything, it’s that Franklin will always be trying to overtake teams that he simply can’t. Whether it’s Ohio State, or Michigan, or even Michigan State some years, Penn State always comes up behind the first place winner. That may not change in a conference with Clemson as the premier program.

Brian Kelly (Head Coach – Notre Dame)

Strength: Proven results at similar prestige program
There was a firestorm of debate on social media regarding the program status of Notre Dame and Florida State. We won’t wade into it too much, but we will say that Florida State is — at the very least — in the ballpark of programs that includes Notre Dame. So his ability to rattle off a 90-37 (.708) record, a national championship appearance, a playoff appearance, and a New Year’s Six bowl bid is encouraging. There’s essentially no more proven candidate in this article than Brian Kelly. He did have one very bad year in 2016, but that team was radically unlucky (1-7 record in one score games) and he made changes midseason to ensure it didn’t happen again. He’s the type of coach who can bring in high-profile coordinators as well, so there won’t be much dead weight on staff like there was with Willie Taggart’s regime.

Weakness: Question of ceiling
To many FSU fans, the above list of accomplishments doesn’t signal a home run hire. It indicates someone who will get the program back to national competitiveness, but will never be able to get it over the hump. That reality doesn’t change when you got a conference with Clemson, where you basically need to go undefeated to even have a shot at the playoff. Much has been made about Kelly’s inability to recruit certain players because of stricter academic standards at Notre Dame, but I don’t think that’s the full reason he’s unable to win a national championship. I think he’s just not a championship-level coach.

Mike Norvell (Head Coach – Memphis)

Strength: Coordinates an offense very well
Norvell knows how to build an offense that can score in droves. The Tigers don’t really have a weakness at any unit, and the balance between their run and pass offense is fairly incredible. Their receivers are fundamentally sound, the running backs are explosive, the offensive line is versatile, and Norvell’s play-calling hides a lot of his current quarterback’s weaknesses. It’s genuinely impressive to watch a Memphis game and look at what it has been able to do. If there was a Power 5 equivalent of their offense, it’s Oklahoma.

Weakness: Question marks about translatability to a major job
Everyone is aware of the rumors surrounding Norvell’s red flags, so there’s no point in rehashing them. What we’re really wondering is how Norvell will translate to the next level. Essentially, if the Seminoles hire Norvell, they’re taking a pretty similar risk to when they hired Taggart. His offense has done fantastic at a lower level with an offensive line that is one of the best in the conference. If he wants that to be true at FSU, he will need a full two years at the very least. The Daily Nole has also heard rumors that his off-field management of players is lacking. Think checked-out Jimbo Fisher levels of punishment.

Odell Haggins (Interim Head Coach – Florida State)

Strength: Continuity and familiarity with the program
Of all the candidates in this article, Haggins has the best grasp on the problems and solutions that FSU football needs right now. Some of the immediate changes he made after Taggart’s firing indicate that he isn’t just willing to toe the line or keep staff members that he views as dead weight. Haggins is well aware what the deficiencies on the roster are, who the bad apples are, who the leaders are, and more. Hiring him would guarantee that your head coach is not walking in to a situation unprepared for the road that lay ahead — essentially, this is the safest hire to ensure another Willie Taggart conundrum does not happen.

Weakness: Virtually no head coach experience
Having that information is one thing. Actually using that information to guide your solutions is another thing. Haggins has exactly four games of Power 5 head coaching experience and only one of those games was against a fellow Power 5 team. The common justification for this hiring is “he can have a great staff around him”. That is true, but even the most loaded of football staffs needs a competent head coach to make it all work together. What if the defense and offense are once again not in sync? What if one of the coordinators is running a style that Haggins personally thinks does not fit the team? These are questions which have better answers when the head guy is experienced. When he’s not? They can become looming disasters.

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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