As the final minutes ticked off the clock, a few thousand Miami fans celebrated and took over a quiet Doak Campbell Stadium.
When the clock hits all zeroes, beyond the final score, an emphatic 27-10 Miami win, the reality hits: FSU is 0-5 in rivalry games and four have been by double digits under coach Willie Taggart.
The Seminoles are not competitive against Clemson. They let a 20-point lead in 2018 slip away at Miami. And the Seminoles laid an egg on Saturday.
Football coaches are measured on three things: overall record, recruiting and academics. Fans and media often forget about the last part, but it’s important. Players are going to classes, there are repercussions if they don’t and grade point averages are on the rise. And it’s really the only win that Taggart has right now.
His recruiting classes have been good, helping Taggart turn over the roster. But they have also lacked a quarterback and enough productive offensive linemen to run the offense. And after lopsided losses to Clemson and Miami, it’s fair to wonder how many recruits will begin to look elsewhere.
Taggart has little positive on-field success to stand on after 21 games. He is 0-5 against Miami-Florida-Clemson, 6-9 against the ACC and 9-12 overall. All three records are completely unacceptable, regardless of the situation he inherited and who you blame for it.
“We got to find a way to win,” Taggart said. “I don’t think you’re going to please anyone until you win ball games. That’s our job. That’s my job. To find a way and get this program back to where it belongs. We are going to work our tails off to do that.”
FSU should be taking steps in the right direction under Taggart, especially in Year 2. We may have seen some baby steps – wins over bad-to-decent ACC teams. And “moral victories,” close losses to the likes of Boise State, Virginia, Wake Forest, all of which are ranked or were ranked this year.
Let’s remember the Bobby Bowden view of the evolution of a program: lose big, lose close, win close, win big. FSU is all too familiar with lose big and lose close.
Is FSU moving forward? If FSU crawling forward? That’s a decision for president John Thrasher.
The decision is about football, finances and emotions. It’s – understatement alert – complex.
Buying out Taggart after the 2019 season would cost $17 million. Add in the cost to buy out coordinators, if they are not retained, as well as assistant coaches. It could easily surpass $20 million. And if it doesn’t sound like a fiscally responsible move, that is a fair point.
Keeping Taggart, as well as a portion of the coaching staff, and potentially bumping analyst Jim Leavitt up to defensive coordinator, may generate some enthusiasm for 2020. But there is also lagging ticket sales – just 63,995 attended the Miami-FSU game, a season-high at Doak Campbell Stadium but more than 15,000 less than capacity. And there are losses of revenue from concessions, as well as the money from donations to the boosters.
Both scenarios result in major financial hits with (potentially) long-term implications. Neither option is pretty. Then again neither was Saturday night.
The penalties added up, 10 of them. Pre-snap penalties, mental mistakes. Nine sacks. An offense literally going backwards.
“Those pre‐snap penalties, jumping offsides and things we address every day in practice, you can’t do it,” said Taggart, whose team has 80 penalties in nine games.
The offense, for the most part, was stagnant. Just 203 offensive yards. And a defensive front that only a few times put pressure on Miami quarterback Jarren Williams, who threw for 313 yards.
This doesn’t look like a team taking a step forward.
The argument to keep Taggart, beyond money, is patience. Fundamentally, college coaches should not be fired in Year 2. The Seminoles (4-5) still have a shot to make a bowl, if they can knock off Boston College on Saturday and then FCS Alabama State.
If Thrasher decides to move on, who would be available? How much would it cost to buy the next head coach out of his job, as well as his staff? All tough questions.
The argument to get rid of Taggart is obvious. The results just aren’t there. And FSU isn’t close enough, at least not to the measuring stick of competing against its rivals.
“At the end of the day when you talk about the fans, it all comes down to winning,” Taggart said. “We got to find a way to win. They don’t want to hear all the other stuff. They want to win. We got to find a way to win ball games.
“And we got three ball games left. Everybody is going to be committed to those three ball games to try to correct it.”
Does Taggart get the time – the three games as well as the 2020 season? Or has time run out?