The college football offseason has a long way to go before it concludes in August. Yet Florida State continues to make sweeping changes as a result of a 5-7 season and a recruiting class outside the top 15.
Head coach Willie Taggart knows that seasons like 2018 cannot be repeated if he wants to be on the sidelines past 2020. It should come as no shock that Florida State has already made three coaching changes.
The crazy part? It is probably not over. There are still rumblings that Florida State is aiming to hire another coach on the defensive side of the ball. That would mean four new faces for 2019, including a revamped offensive line and offensive coordinator.
With four moves already being made, we decided to give an overview of them and evaluate them from an on-field standpoint. Did Taggart find upgrades across the board? Or is he simply looking for a reset?
Hiring Kendal Briles
Our disclaimer for this section is that we are grading strictly from an on-field production standpoint. There are external factors that might make a change look better or worse, but those are hard to quantify because we simply do not know what happened behind the scenes. Briles brings an element of off-field baggage that cannot be properly examined in this article.
In terms of offensive cohesion, Kendal Briles is probably the best possible hire that Taggart could make. His system is very similar to the Gulf Coast style, and he has a very solid resume of improving offenses wherever he goes. Both Florida Atlantic and Houston saw immediate jumps in offensive ranking when Briles arrived.
FAU’s offense also declined after Briles departed, despite the Owls returning a majority of their production. Whereas Walt Bell was a rising star in the coaching ranks when FSU hired him, Briles is a known quantity.
The only uncertainty is transitioning to the Power 5 level. While Kendal seemed to do well at Baylor under his disgraced father Art Briles, he was also not calling the shots. The improvement at FAU and Houston are by far the most encouraging results.
Yet those are two teams who do not regularly face defenses on the caliber of Florida State’s opponents. While it is almost guaranteed that the Seminoles will do better on offense in 2019, the upgrade in competition could be a limiting factor for how well Briles does in his first year as offensive coordinator.
Firing Greg Frey, Hiring Randy Clements
Florida State fired the offensive line coach behind the worst unit in the Power 5 and subsequently hired a coach familiar with the new offensive coordinator. There is no way to conclude that is a downgrade.
Obviously, that is not the complete story. Offensive line coaches cannot be graded on one year with a pile of…junk…to work with. There were still legitimate concerns about development and recruiting production they were getting from Frey. In addition to the well-known offensive line problems, Frey missed on virtually every recruit he was focused on. He rebounded a little at the very end, but his misses earlier in the cycle were very damaging.
Is Clements a huge upgrade? Maybe. According to the S&P+ ratings, Houston’s offensive line showed substantial improvement across the board under the first year of Clements. If nothing else, Florida State expects the offensive line to be below average next season. If Clements is the key to helping Briles reproduce his previous stops, then Florida State took a good risk.
It is still a risk to be letting go of an offensive line coach after just one year. We continue to think Frey is a good coach, but his style of line takes more than one season to come together. Will his firing reset some progress made in 2019? Or will it allow someone else to build off it?
Firing Alonzo Hampton
We’re not giving Taggart A-plusses for solving problems that he helped create, so firing Hampton sneaks into that grade range. If you’ll recall, we labeled the Hampton hire as one of the more questionable ones of Taggart’s beginning. He did not justify earning a position on Florida State’s staff.
Still, it was a necessary move for both the special teams and the recruiting side. Hampton seemed to actively harm the former and slack a bit on the latter. No one expected him to light the world on fire, but just about everyone thought he would do better than he actually did.
Whatever reservations one might have about Willie Taggart, it is encouraging that he will not hesitate to fire underperforming friends.
Hiring Ron Dugans
Rumors that David Kelly would be moved off-field after the 2018 season have circulated since before it started. The hiring of a new wide receivers coach was more or less imminent — it was simply a question of what route Taggart would go. He chose to go with a familiar face in Miami wide receivers coach Ron Dugans.
Dugans gets the brownie points for being a former FSU player, which also might help with retaining him for more than a couple of years. Still, we should focus solely on what he brings with his on-field coaching and recruiting ability.
To the former point, we’re not sure that the coaching difference between Kelly and Dugans is exceptionally large. It might not even be an upgrade at all. They’re both capable coaches who helped put together encouraging performances from the players under their wings. There is no particular number that would help in determining who is the better coach.
The real upgrade comes with the recruiting. Kelly isn’t a shabby recruiter himself, but Dugans simply has a more proven track record. According to 247Sports, nine of Dugan’s receiver commits at Miami were blue-chip recruits. That includes guys like Jeff Thomas and Ahmmon Richards, who were both noted for their immediate impact. Florida State will likely take at least three receivers in the 2020 class, so Dugans has the chance to make a splash early on.