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Can Willie Taggart match Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting success at Florida State?

With the current landscape facing the ’Noles, is it even a realistic possibility?

NCAA Football: Florida State Spring Game Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

FSU head coach Willie Taggart is a dynamic recruiter. He brings an enthusiastic approach to the process that clearly resonates with high school athletes. Taggart proved as much with his successful tenures at Western Kentucky, South Florida, and Oregon, where he left all three programs in better places than when he arrived. At one point, he had Oregon set up with one of the best classes in the country before his departure to Tallahassee, an impressive accomplishment given that school’s location and the surrounding talent base.

He’s engaging and relatable, both in-person and on social media. It was one of the main reasons why he was FSU’s first choice in its head coaching search. Taggart is a tireless worker who passed his first major test by salvaging a 2018 recruiting class that was ravaged by decommitments. However, none of that guarantees that he’ll have more success than his predecessor.

Ask your typical Florida State fan to describe Jimbo Fisher, and you would be met with a variety of answers. A brilliant offensive mind, an inflexible tactician, or a methodical play caller could be considered accurate descriptors of the team’s former head coach. One trait of Fisher that is not up for debate is his ability as a recruiter.

If you exclude Fisher’s first class, in 2010, (which is fair, given its transitional nature) he was in charge of seven full classes while head coach at FSU. Of those seven classes, six finished in the Top 10 of the 247 Composite Rankings, five finished in the Top 5, and three finished in the Top 3. Impressive results, and one of the key factors in Florida State’s return to national prominence. During that time period, his average class ranking was a 4.7— results that would be hard to replicate at any school and any time. Taggart may prove to be a very good recruiter, but Fisher’s results were outstanding.

Another factor working against Taggart is one that is purely out of his control: the current recruiting landscape. Recruiting does not happen in a vacuum. You are selling your school against every other program in the country. At the beginning of his tenure, Fisher found himself in a challenging position. Florida State’s three previous classes before he took over were ranked outside of the Top 10, and the school was at the tail end of the “Lost Decade.” Taggart’s situation is even more precarious.

The college game is constantly in a state of change; programs rise and fall in a largely cyclical nature. Fisher not only created a favorable cycle at Florida State, he was also helped by in-state rivals Miami and Florida being largely irrelevant on the national stage. FSU’s main conference rival, Clemson, had not yet established a consistently elite product. These factors played in the Seminoles’ favor and were certainly a component of the team’s prolonged recruiting success. Taggart does not have the benefit of such favorable conditions.

The Gators and Hurricanes have hired new coaches and are inserting themselves into the conversation for every in-state recruit. Clemson is the class of the ACC, and a threat to land any high school athlete that it has its eye on. Georgia has turned into a juggernaut on the trail and is fully committed to challenging for SEC titles. All of these schools are targeting the same players as the Seminoles. These are all circumstances that Taggart and his staff must navigate on an annual basis.

College football is the ultimate meritocracy. Results matter over everything, and context is an afterthought when head coaches are making millions of dollars. Does Taggart have more recruiting ability than Fisher? The answer to that question could very well be yes. If the ’Noles don’t consistently pull in the right quality of player, it also won’t matter. Landscape and all, can Taggart match Fisher’s recruiting success? To continue living out his dream, he won’t have a choice.