Back in the early 90s when FSU football was building its dynasty, there was a sitcom that ran for three seasons named Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. It was loosely based on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and was about the titular teenager who was able to get away with anything and as the title states, couldn’t lose. No matter the circumstances that mounted against Lewis, he always came out smelling like roses.
Fast forward some 20 years later and Florida State’s head football coach, Willie Taggart, had to think he had acquired these same powers. In less than 10 years as a head coach, Taggart managed to land his “dream job” at the school he was a fan of as a child. But something went horribly wrong. It was if Taggart stumbled into his own sitcom, one titled Willie Taggart Just Can’t Win.
Our show begins with Willie Taggart being hired at his dream school, Florida State University. He arrives in late 2017 to much fanfare and is excited to hit the ground running. But there is a problem, Taggart has to assemble his staff and land an elite recruiting class in two weeks. His predecessor left the class in shambles. Can Willie bring in Justin Fields? Can his all-star line of potential coaches arrive on campus and turn FSU back into a juggernaut?
*cue laugh track*
Over the course of the offseason, Taggart can’t land the staff he set out to hire. With misses on Jim Leavitt, Mario Cristobal, Jim Leonhard, Ron Dugans, and others, Taggart moves down his list to Walt Bell, Greg Frey, and Harlon Barnett.
Taggart is able to salvage a top-15 recruiting class but misses at several key positions, including offensive line and quarterback. Spring practices reveal just how inept FSU’s offensive line is and that the offense would struggle. Through it all, Taggart continues optimistically, touting that this is not a rebuild.
This proves to be a mistake. One either caused by his own fandom or because FSU hadn’t had a losing record or missed a bowl in over 30 years. The burden that Taggart unknowingly walked into was only building.
Due to low APR scores, Taggart is forced to allow a bad culture to continue to breed on the team, with malcontents at key positions. He can’t bench players, as the transfer portal now allows players an easier way out, depleting important positions, and he can’t kick players off the team as both transfers and processed players drives the APR further down.
Still, despite all that mounting against him, Taggart and his staff manage to have the No. 1 ranked recruiting class at the beginning of the summer of 2018. This ranking doesn’t last. Summer camp only confirms the offensive line fears, as rumors insist that practice can’t even be completed correctly.
Taggart doesn’t flinch and doubles down on the hype. On the opening night of the 2018 season, the Seminoles arrive in their black uniforms and get Doak Campbell Stadium rocking with “Swag Surfin.” You know the rest of this story and how that first season ended.
A losing record, a broken streak, and heartache. Willie Taggart didn’t win.
With the 2019 season beginning, FSU’s failures only continue to mount. An offensive coordinator/quarterback decommit costs Florida State a QB in its class for a second straight season. There’s another debacle of not bringing in college-ready offensive linemen. Did you hear that Taggart fired a coach whose wife was in the hospital? It seemed no matter the move, Taggart was in the wrong.
Still he perseveres. He makes changes, firing long-time friend Alonzo Hampton. Replacing the departed Bell and Frey with upgrades in Kendal Briles and Randy Clements. But with every seeming success, there’s a cloud. Another perceived misstep. FSU manages to mishandle the number of coaches rule and is now down a coach for the entire year. The Seminole’s lose their two most experienced linemen, as Landon Dickerson transfers to Alabama and Cole Minshew is injured. It’s as if Taggart became stuck in a sitcom trope that calls for the star to find cursed pirate’s gold on vacation and bring it home.
The kickoff of season two begins with an explosion: an explosion of offense. Florida State scores 31 points... in one half. Unfortunately, you know the rest. FSU can’t score another point against Boise and allows over 600 yards of offense. They follow that game up with nearly the same result, needing overtime to beat ULM. The team from the Sun Belt Conference scores on five of its last six possessions.
I’m not saying Willie Taggart won’t win eventually. I’m just saying that he inherited an absolute disaster and instead of surveying the landscape and admitting that this was going to be a rebuild, he doubled down, building false hope. This isn’t all Taggart’s fault. But he certainly shares a large portion of the blame.
On a positive note, Taggart isn’t afraid to make changes. He shifted coaches last season and that’s paying off, as FSU currently has the nation’s 9th ranked offense. If the defense continues down this path, we’ll see a similar move.
Make no mistake, Willie Taggart wants to win. He just has to start being honest about the state of this program. If he doesn’t? Well, Parker Lewis may not be the only one who lasted only three seasons.