TALLAHASSEE — New Florida State coach Willie Taggart established himself as one of the game’s rising stars through his ability to turn three programs around (Western Kentucky, USF and Oregon).
Whether he succeeds at his fourth stop hinges on how he attacks a different kind of challenge: Revitalizing a powerhouse program that has started to grow stale.
"This is not a rebuild," Taggart said after being formally introduced as the 10th full-time head coach in Seminoles history. "This is more of a realignment."
For that, Taggart has Jimbo Fisher to thank.
Although the Seminoles are still peeved at Fisher’s departure — FSU president John Thrasher made a dig at his expense Wednesday — Fisher left FSU better than he found it. Before bolting for Texas A&M, Fisher dragged the Seminoles into the college football arms race with a renovated locker room, a new indoor practice facility and the 63-foot high video board that welcomed Taggart to Doak Campbell Stadium on Wednesday.
While Fisher was fixated on modernizing facilities, his program stalled in other ways, which Taggart seems ready to address.
Fisher doesn’t use social media. The 41-year-old Taggart uses Twitter regularly to communicate with more than 68,000 followers.
While Fisher’s loyalty to his assistants was admirable, FSU’s staff became stagnant after three years without a change. Taggart will be able to evaluate current assistants during preparation for the Independence Bowl to see which ones belong in his regime.
The most obvious change will be what happens when Taggart replaces Fisher’s pro-style system with his Gulf Coast Offense.
"How would I describe it?" Taggart asked. "Lethal simplicity."
No one would use those words to describe what Fisher ran. The Bucs cited Fisher’s complex offense as one reason they thought quarterback Jameis Winston was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
That system won Fisher a national title and 29 consecutive games with an NFL quarterback, but it faltered with true freshman James Blackman. The Seminoles’ offense was No. 78 in scoring (26.7 points per game) and 66th in yards per play (5.6) during this season’s 6-6 setback.
"We want to score fast on offense but be really simple in how we teach our players," Taggart said. "Not confusing them about what they need to do. Allow our guys to go out and play football and play fast."
Fisher’s Seminoles didn’t do that last part, either.
Despite the nationwide trend toward up-tempo offenses, Fisher’s Seminoles ranked in the bottom 10 nationally in plays per game (61.2) and plays per minute (2.02).
Expect Taggart to push those numbers up. His Ducks ran almost 12 more plays per game than FSU and played at a quicker tempo than Clemson, UCF, SMU and Baylor.
Taggart wants his defense to play fast, too, but he doesn’t have a specific 4-3 or 3-4 system in mind. That shows the same kind of adaptability he had at USF, when he saved his job in 2015 by opening up the offense to highlight quarterback Quinton Flowers’ strengths.
Fisher was much less flexible. He mostly stayed true to the defensive schemes that won the 2013 national title, even as production eroded the last two seasons.
Fisher had reasons to stick with his philosophies; he won an ACC-record 78 percent of his games. But his program was starting to slip after 11 seasons (three as coach-in-waiting, eight as head coach).
"It can’t be about what we’ve done in the past," Taggart said. "It’s got to be about where we’re going now."
And that means realigning the Seminoles to get them back where Fisher had them four years ago.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
• Remember how Jimbo Fisher called leaving Florida State for Texas A&M a "no-brainer" on Monday? The Seminoles certainly do. When Willie Taggart suggested FSU was his dream job, school president John Thrasher interpreted his words this way: "It was kind of like a no-brainer to come to Florida State," Thrasher said. Shots fired.
• Taggart’s contract will pay him $5 million annually over six years. FSU will owe him 85 percent of the remainder of his deal if it fires him without cause; he will owe $5 million if he leaves before the term expires. The Seminoles will have $5.5 million available for assistants.
• Because the Fisher drama had been lingering, Thrasher had been preparing for a possible coaching search for "a while." He didn’t specify what that meant, but FSU contacted Taggart on Thursday — a day before Fisher resigned. FSU officials met with Taggart on Monday.
• While Taggart is the school’s first full-time African-American head football coach, he made sure to point out that he still came after interim coach Odell Haggins, who is also black. "I do understand my role," Taggart said. "I do understand a lot of people are counting on me to do well."