Trouble in Tallahassee: Willie Taggart era at FSU off to rocky start

Willie Taggart walked into the room, took a nervous swig of water and did his best to get his flailing program back on track.

The words had clearly been swirling around in his head for the past 48 hours, since another dismal performance by the Florida State Seminoles.

He even jotted them down on paper, to make sure he didn’t forget anything.

“Our fans have every right to have high expectations of our program, and I can assure you that no one has higher expectations than I do,” Taggart said Monday, his eyes focused firmly on the notes in front of him. “We have a proud history and tradition of football at FSU, and this is on our shoulders to carry on the torch. Our fans, students, alumni and former players deserve a team that plays better than what we have so far this season.”

Taggart has been the coach in Tallahassee for all of three games.

More than enough time, it turns out, to look hopelessly overmatched in his new post.

Now, it seems only a matter of time before the Seminoles are forced to move on from this trainwreck of a personnel decision. The only questions are how much it will cost them in the end, and how much damage will be left for the next coach to clean up.

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Actually, one more question should be asked: Why did Florida State think Taggart was qualified to run such a high-profile program?

He had coached only one season at a Power Five school, leading Oregon to a rather ordinary 7-5 mark in the weak Pac-12 conference before returning to his native state to lead an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse, or the remnants of one. Before that, he went a combined 40-45 in seven seasons at Western Kentucky and South Florida.

In light of his less-than-impressive resume, maybe it’s not all that surprising that Taggart is off to a 1-2 start with the Seminoles, but this goes beyond the obviously disappointing record. The Seminoles have looked dysfunctional, confused, disorganized and poorly coached in blowout losses to Virginia Tech and Syracuse, and even in a way-too-close victory over FCS school Samford.

Taggart’s performance at his weekly news conference provided little reason to believe he can turn things around.

The way he made it sound, his players have no idea what they’re trying to do or what the coaches want them to do.

“We’ve got to evaluate every day how we’re coaching and what message we’re taking to our guys,” Taggart said. “As coaches and as teachers, you’ve got to find ways to get to your players, so they can do exactly what you ask them to do. As coaches, we’ve got to be smart and make sure we’re not over-coaching. It’s about making sure our guys are comprehending what we need them to do and understanding why we’re doing certain things.”

Of course, these were lessons that should’ve been instilled back in spring practice and all through summer workouts and on into preseason camp.

This is not the time for on-the-job training.

In a season-opening 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech , the Seminoles failed to score a touchdown at home for the first time in almost a decade. They turned it over five times. They had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. They missed a field goal. Deondre Francois was sacked five times. There were all sorts of sloppy penalties, ranging from false starts to illegal formations.

In the second half, the Seminoles’ offense was downright offensive. Outside of an 85-yard run by Cam Akers that produced the lone first down of the final two quarters, Florida State ran a grand total of 20 plays on its seven possessions for a loss of 5 yards. The result of those drives (using that term very loosely) — four punts, two interceptions and a fumble.

The following week, Florida State needed a fourth-quarter rally to escape with a 36-26 victory over Samford, a private school with fewer than 6,000 students that competes in the Southern Conference. The Seminoles’ defense was gashed for 525 yards, but managed to hold on thanks to five turnovers.

No one thought for a minute that Taggart had righted the ship.

That was certainly apparent this past Saturday. Hitting the road for the first time, Florida State was dominated again, 30-7, by a Syracuse team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2013 . The Seminoles gained just 240 yards and barely avoided being shut out by a defense that was torched for 42 points by Western Michigan two weeks earlier.

The Orange sacked Francois four times, deflected a couple of passes and spent most of the day poring through an offensive line that seemed to think it was illegal to touch an opposing player. Not that the Seminoles didn’t spend a lot of time doing illegal things, finishing with 11 penalties for 90 yards. Through three games, Florida State has been flagged a total of 27 times — the surest sign of an undisciplined team in desperate need of some top-notch coaching.

Florida State’s start has even sparked questions whether Taggart could be one-and-done, but that seems highly unlikely given it would take a reported $21.2 million to escape his contract. (Former adult film star and Seminoles fan Mia Khalifa is trying to help by launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money, complete with a misspelling of the embattled coach’s name; as of late Monday afternoon, she had brought in $66. )

In fairness to Taggart, former coach Jimbo Fisher knew what he was doing when he bolted for Texas A&M. This program has been a state of decline since its 2013 national championship, culminating with last season’s mark of 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But no one expected the Seminoles to sink this low.

Wrapping up his news conference, Taggart appeared to go off script in one more attempt to rally the troops.

“Once again,” he bellowed, not so much for the room of reporters but those watching the live stream, “I believe in this football team, and I believe they’re going to get it right. We’re all going to get it right. Hang in there with us. Go Noles!”

Was anyone buying it?

Doubtful.

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