Published 4:23 PM EDT Sep 15, 2018
It is generally a poor sign about the state of a college football program when someone is compelled to look up the theoretical cost of firing a coach just three games into his tenure.
But that’s where we were Saturday afternoon as Florida State got embarrassed at Syracuse 30-7, continuing what has been apparent since Willie Taggart’s debut on Labor Day against Virginia Tech.
Florida State is, without question, a bad football team. It is also a poorly coached team. Three games in, there is nothing redeeming about the product Taggart is putting on the field.
In nearly every case where a new coach takes over, it would be totally inappropriate to suggest that a school might have botched its hire. And yet this is the rare case where nobody should blame Florida State fans for being completely panicked about what they’ve seen so far from Taggart’s Seminoles.
It’s absolutely been that bad.
For the record, the price tag for Florida State to cut the cord after this season would be hefty: $21.25 million, which equates to 85% of the remaining salary on the six-year, $30 million deal he agreed to in December. That doesn’t even count any guaranteed money owed to assistants, all of whom were given multiyear deals.
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In other words, the economics would be so crushing that it doesn’t even seem like something Florida State could seriously consider. (It’s also worth noting here that the Seminoles don’t currently have an athletics director, as Stan Wilcox has taken an executive-level job with the NCAA.)
But regardless of whether Florida State can realistically fire him this year, it’s quite clear the clock is already ticking on Taggart. Because while we’ve seen plenty of great coaching tenures that started slowly, this doesn’t look like your garden variety Year 1 growing pains. This is laughable incompetence, both on the field and the sideline, on a level that is totally unacceptable for a program like the Seminoles.
It’s not just getting de-pantsed 24-3 by Virginia Tech in the season opener. It’s not just having to come back in the fourth quarter last Saturday to survive against Samford (and giving up 525 yards in the process). And it’s not just what happened Saturday, when the Seminoles’ offense had eight three-and-outs on its first 10 possessions and mustered 240 total yards against a Syracuse team that gave up 42 points to Western Michigan two weeks ago.
It’s the totality of this disaster that raises serious alarms about what the heck Taggart — who functions as FSU’s primary playcaller — is doing.
The Seminoles aren’t particularly physical. They don’t look mentally tough. And they don’t execute anything at a very high level.
In fact, in its first 26 possessions against ACC opponents, Florida State had scored three points with six turnovers.
To give Taggart a slight benefit of the doubt, Florida State wasn’t the healthiest program when Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M last December. In fact, they had to reschedule Louisiana-Monroe for the first weekend in December just to get to 6-6 and push their consecutive bowl streak to 36 years.
But at the same time, the program Taggart inherited wasn’t completely broken either. We’re not talking about a total cleanup job like what Nick Saban took over at Alabama or when Charlie Strong took over a Texas team that had no NFL draft picks.
Florida State, in fact, started the 2017 season at No. 3 in the polls before cratering when quarterback Deondre Francois got hurt in the season-opener against Alabama. Even this year, the Seminoles were No. 19 in the preseason, reflecting some level of belief that years and years of elite-level recruiting under Fisher would help Taggart field a reasonably competitive team right off the bat.
Instead, Florida State looks both soft and inept, and much of that has to fall on Taggart. Just consider what happened at the end of the first half against Syracuse, which led only 6-0 because it squandered several opportunities early to build a big lead.
With the Seminoles driving for points, or perhaps even to take an improbable lead going into the locker room, they had plenty of time to get a field goal attempt when they faced first-and-10 at the Syracuse 20 with 15 seconds left in the half.
After two quick plays went nowhere, the only thing they couldn’t do without a timeout was get tackled in bounds, short of the first-down marker. But Francois didn’t seem to have a full grasp of the situation, throwing short to Keith Gavin, who didn’t have a chance to do anything other than get tackled as time ran out on the half.
Those mistakes just can’t happen, but it was a fitting way to end Florida State’s only meaningful offensive drive of the day and some ammunition for those who questioned whether Taggart’s career record of 47-50 said more about his game-day coaching rather than the circumstances he inherited in short stints at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon.
Whether it can get worse for Taggart from here is anyone’s guess. It’s a long season, and there will be opportunities for the Seminoles to build some type of narrative change around the Taggart regime that can carry into Year 2.
But at least for now, this is no longer an anomaly. It’s what the Seminoles are under Taggart. And even though the cost will probably prohibit Florida State from doing something drastic, he’s already in trouble.