How Much of a Sure Thing Is Willie Taggart's Success at Florida State?

In this week's #DearAndy mailbag, your reservations about a potential home run hire for Florida State are addressed. Plus, which Florida job will come open next, and which schools should be recruiting well enough to contend every year?
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We’re trying something different this week. Actually, it’s something familiar. Something tried and true. For this week—and hopefully for every #DearAndy column from this point forward—we’re ditching the video answers in favor of an all-print edition. If you like or dislike it, hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

On to your questions…

From Tom: Wasn’t Willie Taggart about to get fired halfway through the 2015 season? Are we sure he’s that great?

He absolutely was about to get fired halfway through the 2015 season. But where you see that as a red flag, I see his solution to that issue as the reason he has a chance to succeed long-term at Florida State. Let’s travel back two years to a time when Justin Bieber wanted clarification regarding what precisely we meant

After taking over a moribund USF program and going 2–10 his first season and 4–8 in his second, Taggart realized he didn’t have the kind of linemen (big and athletic; basically, NFL prospects) he needed to run the West Coast offense that longtime mentor Jim Harbaugh runs. The system had worked at Western Kentucky, but the run-game-in-a-phone-booth-to-set-up-the-play-action-pass model doesn’t work when you get whipped up front. So before the 2015 season, Taggart tweaked the offense. He put his quarterback in the shotgun and moved his receivers out wider. Not wide like Ohio State—which is kind of wide—but nuclear wide, like Baylor at the time. This forced defenses to declare whether they were going to bring their safeties up in run support or leave them deep to deal with downfield shots.

The scheme had a great name (the Gulf Coast Offense), but for the first few games that year, it did not work very well. This wasn’t because it was a bad offense but because the Bulls hadn’t mastered it yet. The Bulls broke through against Syracuse in game five, averaging 7.8 yards a play in a 45–24 win. Including that game, USF won 17 of the final 21 games Taggart coached there.

This offensive shift did indeed save Taggart’s job, and it also suggests he’s the type of coach who can succeed at a premium program like Florida State. I’ve told the story before of Urban Meyer and his staff junking most of their offense and creating a rudimentary scheme their inherited players could run midway through their first season at Florida in 2005. I’ve written many times about Nick Saban’s schematic flexibility. The best coaches are the ones who can adjust when what they do either stops working or seems headed for a dip because of changes in the game. Taggart has that gene. You can criticize him all you want for the way he handled his exit from Oregon, but the change he made at USF is definitely a positive.

The question now is whether Taggart will drift back toward the more pure version of the offense he learned from the Harbaughs.  He can now recruit NFL-bound offensive linemen. He’ll have the manpower to run whatever he wants. But now that he’s seen what the Gulf Coast Offense could do at USF and at Oregon, perhaps he’ll marry the best of both schemes and build around the athletes he can now recruit in Tallahassee.

From Jason: With all the coaching turnover, who in your opinion are the blue blood programs that can compete for national championships? Who can recruit at that level?

Bud Elliott at SBNation does a great job every year of determining which programs—based on their recent recruiting—actually have a chance to win the national title in a given year. Here’s the Blue Chip Ratio column he wrote before the 2017 season. As you can see, three of the four playoff teams are among the 10 he identified. If Oklahoma were to win the national title, it would mark the first time the Blue Chip Ratio has been wrong. 

But the Blue Chip Ratio only measures the programs that are recruiting well enough to win the national title. It doesn’t account for the programs that should be able to recruit that well. Here’s the list of the programs that should be able to recruit the kind of talent that wins national titles. Being left off the list doesn’t mean a program can’t build up to a great team capable of winning a title every few years. Nor does being on the list guarantee any kind of titles (as you’ll see based on recent seasons). This is just a list of the programs that have the natural recruiting base and the resources to recruit effectively every year. Whether they actually do it is up to their individual coaching staffs.


Florida State

Big Ten

Ohio State
Penn State

Big 12





Texas A&M


Notre Dame

From Will: Andy, who wins more games in the next four years: FSU or Texas A&M?

I’m assuming Nick Saban will continue to work for at least some of next four years, so that tilts the odds in favor of Taggart’s team over the team now led by former Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. Making matters even tougher for Fisher, he has to play Clemson in each of his first two seasons. Florida State has to play the Tigers every year, of course, but the Seminoles’ game this past September against Alabama was a one-off affair. The equivalent to Texas A&M’s challenge would be Florida State having to play Alabama each of the next two years.

Plus, Auburn looks poised to stay near the top of the SEC West, and LSU could be better than the 9–3 team it was this year if it can develop a quarterback. The ACC Atlantic is about to lose Lamar Jackson at Louisville and a ton of talent from NC State’s best team in years. The thing that could hamper Taggart in this race is if Dan Mullen rebuilds Florida quickly. That could produce a blockbuster game at the end of each year that might dent Taggart’s win total.

Now, if Saban retires at any point, feel free to ask this question again.

From Cait: Andy, who lasts longer in their new job: Heupel, Mullen, or Taggart?

Josh Heupel at UCF seems most likely to have the shortest tenure, simply because of where that job sits in the hierarchy. If he does well, he’ll get snapped up by a Power 5 program. If he performs poorly, UCF would move on quickly because its recruiting base allows it to bounce back from a bad hire quickly. There is very little middle ground with that job.

As for Mullen versus Taggart, both are going to have to win a lot to stay. Florida seems to chew up its coaches faster than Florida State, but that sample might be biased by the fact that Florida State replaced an all-time great coach (Bobby Bowden) with a guy who might someday be considered an all-time great coach (Fisher). Mullen and Taggart feel pretty even here, but I’m going to lean toward Taggart because the Seminoles just seem a little better at continuity.

From @BelkBowl: Why is the Belk Bowl the best bowl? #DearAndy

Because out of all the bowl sponsors, Belk is the only one that always fills my seersucker needs. I live in an extremely hot climate and have very large thighs. This creates the occasional flammable situation, and sometimes I find myself in desperate need of more seersucker pants at a reasonable price. Belk is always there for me.

From Michael: First trip to Nashville, where do I go for hot chicken? Any other must-have foods?

Glad you asked, Michael. Here are my Hot Chicken Power Rankings. And here is my guide to eating and drinking in Nashville.