Decision on coach will be crucial
FSU FOOTBALL of stability with legendary coach Bobby Bowden in charge of the program from 1977 through 2009. His successor, Jimbo Fisher, coached from 2010-17 before leaving for Texas A&M.
During their tenures, the program won at least a share of 15 Atlantic Coast Conference championships and three national championships.
Yet in the two seasons since Fisher’s exodus, FSU has had two coaches: Willie Taggart and Haggins. The team is 11-13 during that stretch, finishing no higher than fourth in the ACC Atlantic Division.
This trend has proven a coaching hire can make or break a football program, which is why so many athletics directors these days are quick to make a change at the top despite the financial implications.
So far this season, six coaches have been fired, with Missouri firing Barry Odom on Saturday. Odom is the second coach from the SEC to be let go and the fourth coach from a Power 5 school. The list includes Taggart’s exit at Florida State.
In the Seminoles’ case, the price tag for winning is a costly one. The Seminoles reportedly persuaded boosters to come up with what could be an $18 million buyout to get rid of Taggart. That’s impressive when you consider the athletics department reportedly faced a $3 million budget deficit in 2018.
FSU officials have reportedly had their eyes on several bigname coaching candidates throughout this process, including former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Penn State’s James Franklin.
Landing a proven winner can be costly as well.
Buyouts for some of these candidates range from anywhere north of $500,000 (Memphis coach Mike Norvell) to $1 million (Penn State’s Franklin) to as high as $6 million (Iowa State’s Campbell).
The six coaching changes so far have come with a hefty price tag: $31.6 million in buyouts for head coaches’ contracts alone. That doesn’t include the money needed to buy out the contracts of assistant coaches or a new coach’s buyout from his former school plus a new salary.
FSU isn’t alone hunting for a new coach and could be joined by more programs during what is typically known as Black Sunday in college football.
Since 2015, there have been 50 coaching changes among the Power 5 schools and another 46 coaching changes among the Group of 5 ranks.
If FSU administrators need an example of the impact of a good hire, they needed only to look across the field Saturday night. The Gators hired Dan Mullen in 2018 and since then, the program has gone 19-5, including a New Year’s Six Bowl win last season.
Florida even managed to wrestle away control over its series with Florida State, winning back-to-back games for the first time since 2008-09.
But not every apparent homerun hire is a winner.
Both Chip Kelly and Scott Frost were highly sought-after coaching commodities in 2018 before landing at UCLA and Nebraska, respectively. But both have struggled to translate those expectations into results on the football field.
FSU players, meanwhile, believe the program isn’t that far off from returning to prominence.
“We’re getting there, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” redshirt junior defensive end Janarius Robinson said.
Quarterback James Blackman said the team isn’t concerned about the coaching instability during the past few seasons.
“We don’t think about it at all; we’ve got a bowl game coming up,” Blackman said. “We’re going to finish out strong.”
But when asked what Florida State needs in its next head coach, Blackman isn’t so sure.
“That’s above my pay grade. I honestly don’t know,” he said. “Coach Odell has done a hell of a job getting us prepared, having us work our butts off, but it just comes down to executing when it’s time to execute.”
Florida State interim coach Odell Haggins is in the mix for the Seminoles’ head coaching job.