For the first time in over four decades, Florida State has undergone the search for a new head football coach. The result? A loss of five pounds, a serious lack of sleep, and a completely altered body-clock. But enough about me. Willie Taggart will be the next man in charge of Seminoles football; the better part of a year exists between now and the 2018 season, and there is ample work to be done.
First, of course, is a bowl game. It’s not yet been announced as to what kind of role Taggart will have in the build-up thereto, but this is now his team, one that has the benefit of a couple of weeks of extra practices not afforded to teams failing to make a bowl. Whatever role he plays in the Independence Bowl against Southern Miss, the current ’Noles are now Taggart’s players, and he’ll certainly dictate what should and should not be their focus as the matchup with the Golden Eagles approaches.
But that’s a bit of a one-off; aside from extending 6-6 FSU’s streak of consecutive winning seasons to 41, the game means nothing, beyond pride. There are much bigger fish to fry.
To begin, Taggart needs badly to hit the recruiting trail and salvage what he can of Florida State’s 2018 class that has seen massive losses during and after the departure of Jimbo Fisher. The situation seems dire for the Seminoles, but a massive swing could be coming.
First, Taggart is an excellent recruiter and has substantial Florida ties. This is his home state, and he’s already been a head coach here, at USF, as has the defensive coordinator he’s bringing from Oregon. Second, new coaches tend to get a recruiting bump resulting from an infusion of energy, and a new message associated with a program.
Let’s not forget that Taggart had multiple Florida recruits committed to him while still with Oregon; they could very well retain their commitments to their coach while staying much, much closer to home. And proximity should never be overlooked for a recruit who wants to be able to play in front of his family and friends as often as possible. FSU will play at least eight games in the state of Florida during 2018’s regular season. That drive beats taking multiple connecting fights to get to Eugene, Oregon, even if it means dealing with Florida interstates.
Of course, a huge part of recruiting involves assistant coaches. These are the guys with whom players will spend most of their time to hone their skills at their respective positions. Most of those on FSU’s current staff will depart. But it’s up to Taggart to decide who stays, who goes, and, most importantly, who comes in to be the fresh faces of the new regime. One move has already been made, in the form of a new defensive coordinator, but the remainder of this turnover must be undertaken with expediency.
In addition to firming up those bound for Tallahassee, Taggart will also have to galvanize the current ’Noles. This has been a tough season, and fractures exist within the program. Taggart will be tasked with the job of uniting his players, and that’s a unique challenge, since he’ll be the new guy in the room. We saw how well that can work when FSU stomped Louisiana-Monroe to achieve bowl eligibility once again and write themselves into the college football record books. That happened for two primary reasons: the Seminoles are much more talented than the Warhawks, but they also united behind interim head coach Odell Haggins.
Fisher used to frequently speak about the value of “love, trust, and belief” in one another. And while he’s gone, that message is far from irrelevant. This is all about buy-in. Taggart needs to get this team in his corner, and quickly. His Florida roots and youth should serve him well in doing so.
Next, Taggart has to forge a positive relationship with Seminole Boosters. Jimbo Fisher’s relationship with FSU’s power players was fraught with contention, and once one heads down that path, it’s difficult to reverse. Egos abound, and digging into a position is far more likely than reconsidering with open minds. It’ll be an important priority for Taggart to foster an amicable status with those controlling the purse strings.
Taggart will also need to create a relationship with the Tallahassee community. But as someone who grew up a huge FSU fan, that shouldn’t be a problem for him. And frankly, I think that theme carries for all the objectives I’ve set forth above. That’s why this seems to be such a good hire for both Florida State and Taggart. It really does stand to be a mutually beneficial relationship.