The depressing truth about Florida State’s 45-44 squeaker over Louisiana-Monroe in overtime on Saturday is that the win fundamentally changed the projection of head coach Willie Taggart’s FSU tenure. In fact, this tweet just sums it up perfectly.
After that game, I think we can say that it is a matter of WHEN not IF for Willie at Florida State.
— Jeff (@saintwarrick) September 8, 2019
We can complain about the win, break it down in every which way, wax poetic about the status of Florida State’s program and what it means to be struggling again. Or, we can tone down the pity party and address the issue head on. We expect Willie Taggart to finish out 2019, but after that we simply do not know if he will even make it to the 2020 season. In light of that development, it’s time we bring back the head coach hot board.
These are not the “top candidates” as whispered to us by anonymous sources in the Moore Center. These are just names we think would arise in the coaching search when/if it happens. Chances are a few of these are out of play for various reasons, and others will come in from left field. That’s the nature of the beast. We attempted to be realistic and assess factors like cost and familiarity with program.
It’s certainly possible that Willie Taggart turns things around and remains the head coach for years to come. It’s also possible FSU goes 11-1 this year. You do the math.
Mark Stoops – Kentucky (HC)
In a sentence that would cause confused looks in 2012, it seems that Mark Stoops might be the top candidate for the FSU head coach position should it come open. Stoops has shocked the college football world by building Kentucky into a legitimate program competing in the SEC East. The Wildcats stunned a lot of people last year (including this writer) by going 10-3 and finishing in the top 15. Kentucky is also on the verge of signing what might be its best recruiting class in school history.
That being said, this choice will heavily rely on how Kentucky does this year. If the Wildcats win eight games or more, he’s a surefire top candidate. But it’s hard to ignore how slow the rebuild was in his first few years. It took Stoops three years to make a bowl game, and that 10-win season is doing a lot of lifting for him right now.
Unfortunately, Kentucky’s starting quarterback had to get carted off in its most recent game, so its record this year will probably need some context.
James Franklin – Penn State (HC)
Franklin was a name that was floated a lot in the head coaching search of late 2017. Being “Frank” here, this writer is not nearly as high on him as others, but it’s hard to deny that he has a more proven record than Taggart and maybe even Stoops.
His head coaching career started at Vanderbilt, where he brought the Commodores to a level of success that they rarely witness. They went to three straight bowl games and had back-to-back 9-win season in his final two years. Some of that was deceiving of course — his biggest wins were over teams like Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn in years where those teams didn’t go to a bowl game. Still, winning at Vanderbilt is hard to downplay.
He’s had a decent start to his Penn State tenure. The Nittany Lions were mediocre in his first two years before going to the Rose and Fiesta bowls in 2016 and 2017, winning the latter. They took a slight dip in 2018 by going 9-4, and they’re on track to win around nine games this year as well. They do a pretty decent job in recruiting, and some of their assistants (Ja’Juan Seider, Sean Spencer) would do a fantastic job in Florida.
It’s a question of how high his ceiling is. Franklin makes some mind-boggling decision in big games, and the Nittany Lions don’t strike anyone as national contenders. Would that change in a comparatively weaker ACC?
Kendal Briles – FSU (OC)
If money really is a huge barrier for Florida State, then this might turn out to be the most logical option. The offense has greatly improved in just two games, and we’re going to assume that it stays at a decent level for the rest of the year. That might just be enough to justify giving Briles the reigns.
The benefits would include the recruiting class sticking together, since most of your essential commits (Malachi Wideman, Jaylan Knighton, Jeff Sims) would get reassurance that they’re playing for a team which will score a lot of points. It also means the offensive line coach Randy Clements would stay in Tallahassee, getting another year to coach up the unit and bring in its current commits. That latter bit cannot be understated. FSU might be at the point where 3-star tackle Thomas Shrader holds more importance than top-50 cornerback Demorie Tate. Losing offensive line commits could set the program back another two years.
The downsides to this…are numerous. For one, he’s 36 years old and never been a head coach at any level. That’s a gigantic risk that the program might not be able to take. Two, he’s been inconsistent as a play-caller so far, and it will be interesting to see if it stays that way for the rest of the season. Three, the same issues that made him a controversial hire in the first place are still there. They won’t go away. We doubt the administration wants the bad press that isn’t already circling.
Justin Fuente – Virginia Tech (HC)
Rumors were that Fuente was the second choice for the FSU opening after Taggart. The administration seems to have just taken one bullet while dodging another, because Fuente’s Virginia Tech program appears to be cratering in its own unique way. The Hokies looked poised to be a real ACC contender after Fuente was hired in 2016. He went 10-4 and 9-4 in his first two seasons, and many were already writing him up as the next big thing. Instead, the Hokies collapsed in 2018 and went 6-7. The locker room was in shambles and it became apparent that Fuente had lost control.
Maybe he simply needs a change of scenery to rediscover his winning ways. Chances are Virginia Tech won’t be extending him anytime soon, and that means the contract buyout is pretty manageable. That being said, the only way FSU hires him is if the Hokies rebound this year and manage something like an 8-4 season. Considering they lost to Boston College in the opener and played a tight game with Old Dominion, one can’t be too sure how realistic that is.
Dave Clawson – Wake Forest (HC)
You want respectability, right? Well Clawson is about as surefire as you can get if you want to have a solid team. Clawson has coached at four different programs, with the latest stop being Wake Forest. He’s had decent success at every single one of them. At Wake, he’s been able to sustain a consistent offense complete with an annoying defense. The Demon Deacons aren’t winning any ACC championships, but they are remaining a thorn in the side of everyone else. Clawson knows the limitations of where he coaches and does a fantastic job of setting the expectations.
Would that change in Tallahassee? Clawson would probably do a fine job with the talent and resources at a program like FSU, and he might even manage to raise his own floor. But the simple fact of the matter is that he hasn’t proven enough. Getting hired by Florida State would mean an expectation of competing for ACC and national titles. It wouldn’t have to be immediate, but the long term goal is to compete at a very high level. Clawson has nothing on his resume indicating he can do that.