Let’s look at this season at the half way point, comparing what FSU fans expected from Willie Taggart and what he’s delivered.
The Coach We Expected
Optimism was sky high for FSU when Taggart took over. Fans saw Jimbo Fisher quit on them and his replacement state emphatically that this was THE destination job for him. It reminded Seminole faithful of Bobby Bowden.
Taggart said and did all the right things this off-season making FSU fans believe he would quickly bring them “back.” If not to a national championship in year one, at least to the look and the feel of past teams, especially with exciting offense.
Taggart had a history of rehabbing programs at every head coaching stop he made. In his first year at Oregon, he flipped a four win team into bowl eligible even after his starting quarterback, now one of the best QB prospects in this year’s NFL draft, was lost to injury.
Taggart’s “lethal simplicity” offense mixed with what fans saw as a talented roster had FSU supporters expecting nothing less than a 4-2 record, and more likely 5-1 if not 6-0, heading into the bye week.
A serious quarterback competition was expected, as was an offense that would be less complicated, but more diverse resulting in greater production. Assistant coaches with track records of developing lesser talent into draft picks, both on offense and defense, were brought in to mentor a roster full of four and five-star talent. Taggart never had the opportunity to work with the talent on hand in Tallahassee and FSU was expected to out-athlete opponents. The most pessimistic FSU fan could not have imagined the team’s offense looking as bad as it has through six games.
Everyone was excited and it showed in spring game attendance and recruiting. The vibe was, if Taggart coaches as well as he recruits, fans should expect something closer to the 9-4 2011 season and within reach of the 12-2 2012 season which saw FSU win its first conference championship since 2005.
FSU sits at 3-3 with results far short of expectations. Reality, and expectations, have shifted massively. Calling Taggart a failure is a reach even if that is the sentiment of a sizeable and vocal segment of the fan base.
At this point last season, FSU was 2-4 with many of the same problems on offensive as well as special teams and defensive. The difference is we’ve seen little dominance over anybody consistently.
Consistency was expected. An identity was expected. Establishing a culture was expected.
Offense was a focal point. FSU is accustomed to high-powered offense and this is where many fans felt the true problem lay since the “Jameis and Jimbo” years.
The first half of the season has created little reason for hope as FSU stumbled through its first six games and now goes into the tougher half of its schedule. Based on the eye test, as well as a variety of stats, FSU has yet to put together a complete game. That doesn’t offer much optimism as the back half has four ranked opponents and two unranked opponents that have given FSU problems in the past – Wake Forest who FSU needed Derwin James batted-pass on the last play to beat and and Boston College who blew the doors off of FSU last season.
Outside of X’s and O’s, game management has been poor. Not challenging calls, not standing up to terrible officiating, bad clock management, and a lack of fire at times have led to questioning if the setting is too big for Taggart. Some of these questions are fair, some aren’t, but the minute Taggart signed the contract he knew that this came with the territory.
There really isn’t much difference between FSU in 2018 and FSU over the past few years. The offensive line is still bad. The offense in general looks talented, yet undisciplined. Neither side of the ball can get out of its own way in clutch times.
Is that solely on the head coach? No, but when things aren’t going right it’s the responsibility of those who are at the top to take blame, just as they’d get credit if all these things were fixed and going great.
What we’re experiencing currently, and should see moving forward, is a recalibration. That’s the word I’d use, not rebuild, rehab or restructure. The current staff is responsible for this hole, as is the previous staff.
Perhaps Taggart was too excited and too positive this off-season about what he was inheriting, that over-optimism transferring to the fan base. His assessment of where the program actually stood when he took over was inaccurate. I can’t blame him much for taking that approach.
Taggart will find his “guys who want to be Seminoles” as well as “war daddies and bad asses.” You can see that based on the recruits already in and their abilities and attitudes on the field. Younger guys are providing a spark.
The major critique I have is that I’d like to see more of a Nick Saban approach from Taggart – more accountability, discipline, focus on the details – and less Pete Carroll loosey-goosey players’ coach. A hybrid of the two would be great.
In hindsight, he should’ve signed a full recruiting class and processed more guys out of the program who had bad attitudes or lacked the talent to compete for playing time.
Let’s be clear, FSU didn’t fire Jimbo or run Jimbo off. Jimbo left and the difference in a coach being fired and leaving after having success is different. When a coach is fired, everyone is on notice. When a coach leaves, players don’t feel they were a part of the reason why the coach left.
It sounds heartless, but I’m not naive and understand full well that college football is a business. You can like all the players, but you love your family. As a coach, I’m not going to get fired for my “like” of you and not provide for my family. That’s how one of my coaches put it in terms of holding me accountable and playing the best players.
To quote Thanos from “The Avengers,” “the hardest choices require the strongest wills…”
Taggart must – and from what I see in the changes to recruiting as well as how the team is playing – take this approach moving forward. You recruit to enhance and replace every year. That’s why the best go to the top colleges and that’s why you see the top colleges stand the test of time.
More importantly, you’ve got to play the players who are going to do what you ask or the ones who can execute the task at hand. Taggart has had more than enough time to properly assess what he has; moving forward, can he make better decisions with the personnel on the field? Hopefully.
Too many plays were left on the field in the first half of the season. This wasn’t due to play calls either, the culprit was lack of execution. That’s on players, but also on the coaches for not holding players accountable. Sometimes you can’t demand accountability because you don’t have the right people.
FSU’s roster has talent so if the first guy isn’t getting the job done, it’s up to Taggart to put that guy’s ass on the bench and try the next player. I would advise Taggart assume more of a CEO role so he can better manage the game.
Give play-calling to your offensive coordinator. Fisher never did this and it drove FSU fans nuts.
In regards to culture, I saw FSU quit against Virginia Tech and Syracuse. The last three weeks I’ve seen FSU improve considerably in the regards to their fight. Last season, FSU’s players quit on Jimbo and Jimbo quit on them. Each week this season, I’ve seen improvements. This shows me that with each week Taggart is at FSU, he is changing the culture. This leads me to also believe that with each recruiting class, he will continue to bring in more guys who not only fit his system, but support his culture.
Buy-in takes time. He is currently having to recruit his own roster to buy in and as well as the next group. This is what continues to make me believe in him and what he is doing.
As I predicted against Miami, one of these weeks it’s going to click. If it does, as FSU goes down the back stretch of the season, FSU could very well go 4-2, including a couple upsets.
The standard is the standard, you can either fall or rise to the level of that expectation. FSU currently is below the standard, but can easily rise to or above it. It’s a process, there’s hope, I just believe we need greater accountability from the coaching staff and patience from fans.
Article Originally Appeared on Gridiron Now: http://gridironnow.com/willie-taggart-what-was-expected-where-is-he-where-is-he-going