Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher is on his way to Texas A&M, so we’ve put together the following hot board as a touchstone for this prospective search, but before we get to the possible candidates, a word or two about methodology.
This is not a wishlist— it’s a realistic rundown of guys who could be targeted by FSU. I’m not gonna waste my time writing names like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Dabo Swinney, and you shouldn’t waste your time pining for them, because they’re not about to happen.
That said, Florida State is one of the true destination jobs in college football, and candidates are likely to come out of the woodwork.
So what kind of candidate could FSU likely pursue? They’ll probably want someone with a history of success as a head coach, which means not a coordinator. While Fisher himself was a coordinator promotion, the overall track record of coordinators who are promoted to big head coach jobs is horrendous.
It would also likely be an offensive mind to follow up on Fisher’s footprint. Fisher is an elite recruiter, so they’d want to fill those shoes as well, which tends to require a history with the Seminoles’ recruiting grounds in the Southeast. And the entire staff could stand to get younger and more diverse, so that will be a consideration, too.
We have reported all week that two men are atop the list.
Willie Taggart (Head Coach, Oregon, 41 years old)
A native of Bradenton, Florida, Taggart began his head-coaching career where he played QB: Western Kentucky. He turned around that program after just the first of his three seasons and then brought back South Florida, where he registered win totals of 2, 4, 8, and 10 (in that order) from 2013-2016 before being hired by Oregon. Taggart is 5-1 with his starting QB this year, and 1-4 without. He’s an excellent recruiter who could seriously reinvigorate FSU’s fortunes in the Tampa area.
Looking closer at his record, the improvement is impressive.
He took Western Kentucky from 2-10, to 7-5, and 7-5, winning 14 of his final 20 games there and upset Kentucky. He set up the roster for Bobby Petrino and for Jeff Brohm, both of whom also used it to jump to better jobs.
Under Skip Holtz, USF went from 8-5, to 5-7, to 3-9. The program was a disaster. Taggart came in and went 2-10, signed a great recruiting class, went 4-8, signed another, then went 8-5, and 10-2 (USF went 11-2, but Taggart didn’t coach the bowl). He was 21-4 in his final 25 games at USF. He set up Charlie Strong with probably the best G5 roster in America.
Now he is on pace to bring in the best recruiting class Oregon has ever had, and by a huge margin.
Taggart is from the Harbaugh coaching tree, including coaching at Stanford from 2007-09. He has shown a great ability to adapt his offensive philosophy, most notably at USF, where he started out attempting to run a pro-style system, realized that did not fit with the type of talents he could sign with the Bulls, and switched to a power spread, scoring a ton of points in the process.
Taggart’s buyout is $3 million, which makes him shockingly affordable. FSU and Oregon are both Nike schools.
Justin Fuente (Head Coach, Virginia Tech, 41 years old)
Yet another current ACC coach on our board, Fuente made his way to Blacksburg after turning around Memphis from a losing program to one that won 10 and 9 games in 2014 and 2015, respectively. He’s followed suit with the Hokies, winning 10 games in 2016 and 9 so far this season in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) area that has been so fertile for FSU as a recruiting ground. Fuente was also a quarterback as a player, and his buyout is $6 million before December 15, at which point it drops to $5 million.
Plus, seven names that could be under consideration for the ’Noles, in alphabetical order— along with some possibilities we don’t think are potential fits.
Dino Babers (Head Coach, Syracuse, 56 years old)
Babers is an up-tempo offense guy who got to ’Cuse by improving the programs at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. Those complaints about the pace at which Fisher’s offense operates (127th nationally in 2017, and usually very slow) would likely be alleviated, as Babers’ attack runs at a blistering pace (for better or for worse). While Babers’ name was a very hip one in coaching-change circles after the Orange beat Clemson earlier this season, some of the luster has come off his candidacy, as his first two seasons at Syracuse have ended with 4-8 records. And while he's worked all over the country, a lot of Babers’ experience has been on the west coast. Moreover, this hire would mean getting older at the HC spot. Because Babers is employed by a private institution, the exact terms of his present contract are not disclosed.
Jeff Brohm (Head Coach, Purdue, 46 years old)
A quarterback like Fisher, Brohm is a Louisville native who also played his college ball for the Cardinals. The Boilermakers nabbed him from Western Kentucky, where he began his head-coaching career by leading the Hilltoppers to 8, 12, and 10 win seasons, respectively, from 2014-2016. He’s been at Purdue just one year, but did get the program bowl eligible for the first time since 2012. Before his head-coaching jobs, Brohm’s assistantships in the south included a year as FAU’s quarterbacks coach in 2009 and another as the UAB OC/QB coach in 2012. Brohm’s buyout is $5 million before December 5th, $4 million after.
Matt Campbell (Head Coach, Iowa State, 37 years old)
Like Brohm, Campbell is rather new to life as a big-time college football coach, but hey, he’s also 37. His name has become a very hot one after leading the Cyclones to bowl eligibility and wins over (then) No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 TCU in his second year running the show in Ames. Before that, Campbell was in charge at Toledo for five years, and thrice posted nine-win seasons. A native Ohioan, it seems like a matter of when and not if Campbell will get poached by a bigger-name school. ISU has just signed Campbell to a six-year contract, raising his annual salary from $2.1 to $3.5 million. His buyout in 2017 is a hefty $9 million.
Dave Clawson (Head Coach, Wake Forest, 50 years old)
Clawson preceded Babers as the big dog at Bowling Green, where he coached for five years. A head coach at various stops since 1999, Clawson has somehow transformed little scrappy Wake Forest to a team in 2017 that was downright exciting to watch and lit up the scoreboard: playing in the same division as Clemson, the Demon Deacons averaged just 1.5 points per game fewer than the Tigers in posting their second-straight seven-win record (to date). It’s intriguing to consider what Clawson could do at a program with some real resources and in a conference with which he’s already familiar. Another private school employee, Clawson’s buyout is unclear, but he did sign an extension earlier this year to remain in Winston-Salem through 2024.
James Franklin (Head Coach, Penn State, 45 years old)
Franklin made his name resurrecting Vanderbilt football from 2011-2013, when he got the Commodores to a bowl game each year and even posted nine-win seasons in his last two years in Nashville. He parlayed that success into the Penn State job, where he’s reached double-digit wins in 2015 and 2016, including a conference title in the former. He would demand a significant financial investment, but FSU is unlikely to hire anyone on the cheap anyway. Franklin is one of the best recruiters in the nation, and his buyout is just $2 million.
Scott Frost (Head Coach, Central Florida, 42 years old)
Frost’s is one of the more bandied about names in the college coaching carousel. He’s young and has obvious Florida ties after taking over a winless UCF squad and leading them to a bowl in his first full year of 2016 and an 11-0 record so far in 2017. Frost has been rumored to be interested in the job at Nebraska, where he starred as a QB. He was the offensive coordinator of the 2014 Oregon team that ended FSU’s 29-game winning streak. Frost’s buyout is $3 million.
Lane Kiffin (Head Coach, Florida Atlantic, 42 years old)
Kiffin would certainly be no stranger to the spotlight that would shine upon him at FSU: he became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history when the Oakland Raiders tapped him in 2007, and that was followed by HC jobs at Tennessee and USC. He then took over offensive coordinator duties at Alabama in 2014 before assuming the big whistle again for FAU this year and leading the Owls to a 9-3 record. Many doubt that he’ll remain at his current post for long before listening to overtures from more prestigious programs. But Kiffin does have a history of leaving positions on less than amicable terms, and his next big job may want to see more stability and consistency from him first. Kiffin’s buyout is $2.5 million.
Gary Patterson (Head Coach, TCU, 57 years old)
This is not as unlikely as some may think. Patterson is the only defensive coach on this list, and he’s also the most established, as he’s been the head coach at TCU since 2000 and has complied a 159-56 record. He’s familiar with coaching in a talent-rich state that includes other powerful programs, but he has recently agreed to a contract extension through 2024—
one that still remains unsigned, as of yet. TCU is a private institution, so we’re not sure exactly what that deal entails, but there is a statue of him on campus, so they probably wouldn’t mind keeping him around.
Quickly, names that simply do not make sense
- Jeremy Pruitt: The Alabama defensive coordinator (and former FSU DC in 2013) is not a good fit for a number of reasons, specifically in Tallahassee.
- Les Miles: The former LSU coached turned 64 recently and underachieved in his last few years with the Tigers.
- Charlie Strong: The USF coach isn’t likely to get another chance at running a destination program after his failures at Texas. He turns 58 in August.
- David Cutcliffe: Cutcliffe is 63 and is not an elite recruiter, though he does a good job at Duke, where AD Stan Wilcox formerly worked.
- Bobby Petrino: FSU simply does not need to take a character risk of this size. He turns 57 in March.
- Mike Norvell: Sources indicate that he will not be a candidate.
- P.J. Fleck: This would be some real culture shock.
- Bob Stoops: Stoops has expressed no interest in returning to coaching and retired in part because of his dad passing away as a coach at around the same age. He wants to spend time with his family.
- Brent Venables: Again, hiring a coordinator for a job of this size is too risky.
- Mack Brown: Yeah, he’s an FSU alum with a national title— but still: seriously?
- Butch Davis. Butch Davis is 66.