By: Elizabeth Klein
If, after the excruciating start of this season, you’re still a Florida State fan, then you have my condolences. It’s not been easy to support FSU this year. Aside from a victory over Wake Forest in October, it has been loss after loss for the struggling Seminoles. To put it simply, the combination of a new coach installing a new system, an ineffective offensive line and a lack of confidence across the team has made for a rough season for the ‘Noles.
Let’s break this down. Last year, Jimbo Fisher stepped down as FSU’s head coach to take a job directing Texas A&M’s football program. The Seminoles were already playing pretty poorly before he left, largely as a result of Fisher’s harsh coaching style. Rumors claim that in the beginning of last year, Fisher had already agreed to coach for Texas A&M. This may mean that his head just wasn’t in the game for the Seminoles’ last season, which explains a lot. For all his micromanaging, Fisher made a mistake in holding onto coaches who were recruiting bad offensive line players. This problem was confounded by the fact that many members of last year’s offensive line got hurt, graduated, or transferred. This set the current team up for failure; they don’t have enough guys to comfortably secure the offensive line, and the ones they do have are being forced to play out of their positions.
To replace Fisher, FSU hired Willie Taggart, an up-and-coming coach with a reputation for being a program changer. One of the most promising aspects about Taggart is his ability to recruit. Everyone believed that his adherence to the standard, “It’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s about the Jimmys and Joes,” would lead him to build a team of five-star players that would be instrumental to the Seminoles’ success. Additionally, in three different schools—Western Kentucky, South Florida, Oregon—he reversed the teams’ losing streaks and made them winners. But the most important takeaway from Taggart’s record is his tendency to struggle at the beginning of his tenure. Taggart’s teams do a lot of losing during their first season with him before they go on to win and win consistently. If you look at his record, you can see that even if he starts with a bad season, his teams never stop improving under his direction.
However, nobody expected him to start the season off this poorly. When spring practice started earlier this year, all reports indicated that things were running smoothly. Taggart had recruited well in a short time period. He’d hired seemingly good coaches. The offense was clicking, and the defensive coordinator had strong players. But then the season started, and things were looking even worse than last year. The offensive line was a mess, the linebackers were doing poorly, and quarterback Deondre Francois wasn’t meshing with the offense. The team wasn’t improving with each game; they were simply jumping from loss to loss without learning from their mistakes.
What happened? How could things have gone so wrong?
The truth is, Taggart probably underestimated the dire state of the team. Jimbo Fisher’s departure from FSU was a huge psychological blow to the team. He ditched them in their darkest hour for a $75 million-dollar gig and ruined their confidence. When Taggart took over, it was apparent that boosting morale would be of great significance, because without confidence, a team can’t win. But at the same time, without winning, a team doesn’t gain confidence. Taggart spent so much time working on raising the spirits of the team that he let the players believe that they were better than they were. This became especially problematic with the offensive line. There’s no way to sugarcoat the situation there: this season’s offensive line is the worst FSU has ever had. It might be the worst offensive line in college football right now. But instead of acknowledging this fact, Taggart let the team overestimate themselves, leading to a harsh awakening when the season began and the Seminoles started losing.
But all hope is not lost. We need to remember Taggart’s record. Whether we like it or not, his teams tend to play poorly under their first season with him as coach before they start winning. This isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s the situation at hand. And that means that we have to give it time.
I understand that college football is not a patient sport. Seasons are short and players don’t stick around very long before graduating, transferring, or getting injured. But the only thing we can do right now is wait. We have to trust in Taggart’s ability to help the team work through this. He’s made some mistakes, but we need to give him a chance to correct them. If Taggart’s record is any indication of the future, then the Seminoles will only go up from here.