Potential candidates to replace Willie Taggart

Following an embarrassing blowout loss to Miami, Florida State made the decision to fire head coach Willie Taggart with three games remaining in the 2019 season. Depending on your stance, this was either expected or extremely surprising. The firing of Taggart has immediate implications not just across the entirety of the program but also the recruiting trail. Already, we’ve seen multiple recruits begin to question their commitments as their futures have been thrown into question.

It is absolutely crucial that Florida State conduct both a thorough and timely search for its third head coach since 2017. The Early Signing Period is quickly approaching and many of the ‘Noles commits were expected to ink their LOI’s in December. That obviously could quickly change depending on how things pan out.

Things simply didn’t work out for Taggart at Florida State, despite his best efforts to right the ship. While the offense has shown signs of improvement this season, the defense has taken a massive step backwards after his switch to the 3-4. Taggart has also gone a combined 0-5 against Clemson, Florida, and Miami. That record likely would’ve been 0-6 after the ‘Noles trip to Gainesville later this month.

With that being said, FSU has to move quickly in its search for a head coach or it faces the risk of falling into purgatory. This is a move that has no room for error and the consequences will be major if it’s another mistake. Here are ten potential candidates we’ve identified that Florida State could pursue to be its next head coach. This list isn’t in any particular order.

1. Mark Stoops, Head Coach, Kentucky (40-43 career record)

Well, after hiring an under .500 coach in Taggart, you’d think FSU fans would have some reservations about bringing in Mark Stoops, but here we are. The former defensive coordinator has been a popular choice amongst ‘Noles fans on Twitter and his name was originally mentioned when the rumors of Taggart’s firing began.

While Stoops has developed a respectable program at Kentucky, there are questions if he could do the same thing in Tallahassee. It seems like too similar of a situation that FSU is currently trying to get itself out of. It would cost $1.75 million to buy him out of his current contract.

2. Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State (59-37 career record)

Campbell is building a consistent winner in Aimes without the help of a solid recruiting forefront. Prior to his arrival at Iowa State, he led Toledo to three nine-win seasons and has now won eight games in back to back years with the Cyclones. Currently, at 5-3, ISU still has a chance to end the 2019 season strong.

Campbell seems happy with his current gig, turning down a chance to interview with the New York Jets last offseason. It remains to be seen what could lure him away from Iowa State but he’s proven himself as a program-builder. His buy-out is $7 million, a steep price with the ‘Noles on the hook for at least $17 million to Taggart.

3. Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson

Brent Venables has been a mainstay at Clemson ever since the Tigers began their successful run. He joined the program in 2012 and they haven’t looked back since, becoming one of the top teams across college football and winning three national championships. He’s the mastermind behind one of the top defenses in the game.

Venables is the second-highest-paid assistant coach in college football, earning $1.7 million per year. He’s passed on a few head coaching opportunities in the past to remain as the defensive coordinator in Clemson. Maybe the allure of the FSU job is what finally catches his eye.

4. PJ Fleck, Head Coach, Minnesota (50-35 career record)

Another program-builder, after success at Western Michigan, Fleck has moved on to Minnesota where his process has finally begun to show significant results in 2019. After going 12-13 over his first two years with Minnesota, the Golden Gophers are currently 8-0, ranked No. 13, and have a huge test at home against Penn State on Saturday.

He has zero ties to Florida but like Campbell, he’s shown at multiple stops that he can do a lot with very little. Fleck’s buy-out is $4 million.

UPDATE 11/4, 11:35 p.m.

Fleck is off the board. He’s expected to sign a new deal with the Gophers to stay in Minnesota. That’s one name officially OFF the board while the rumors of Bob Stoops continue to circle in Tallahassee. We’ll continue to bring you updates as we receive them.

5. Mike Norvell, Head Coach, Memphis (34-15 career record)

One of the hottest commodities in current college football, Norvell has led Memphis to success with a deadly spread offense. In his four seasons with the Tigers, they’ve never finished with less than eight wins and were 10-3 in 2017. Memphis is 8-1 at this point in the 2019 season and could finish as one of the top G5 teams in the country.

The Tigers are nationally ranked following a victory over a previously undefeated SMU team with College Gameday in attendance. Norvell has been extremely impressive at Memphis but could that success carry over to Florida State? Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente had success at Memphis but he’s struggled mightily since getting to Blacksburg. Norvell’s buyout is just 500K, a bargain, no doubt.

6. Tony Elliott, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson

Another Clemson coordinator this time on the offensive ball, Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott shares the title with recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott. That’s a lot of coaching titles between two guys, which shows just how much Dabo Swinney wants to keep both of them.

Scott has been with Swinney since 2008 as the WR’s coach and he was promoted to Co-OC when Elliott joined the staff in 2015. Since then, Clemson has had one of the most successful offenses in college football. Elliott does most of the play-calling for the offense and he was first able to helm a two-quarterback system of Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence to success before helping Lawrence become one of the stars of the game.

He’s just 39 but has already won a Broyles Award back in 2017 as the top assistant coach in college football.

7. Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Florida State

The youngest member of this group of potential FSU head coaches at just 36, Kendal Briles has been an offensive mastermind beyond his years at all of his previous stops. Even now, despite the inconsistencies, it’s hard to argue that the ‘Noles haven’t taken a step forward on offense under his tutelage.

If he’s brought on as the head coach, it provides the players with a sense of familiarity and stability. Briles can continue to instill his offensive system with Randy Clements in place to continue retooling the offensive line. Defensively, he can find his own man with Harlon Barnett almost certainly gone after the season.

Plus, it should also help keep most of the current recruiting class in place. It’s certainly a risky move but it has the potential to pay off in a big way.

8. Bob Stoops, Head Coach/GM, Dallas Empire (190-48 career record)

The biggest fish on the list, former legendary Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops retired from coaching in 2017 but ended that retirement in February when it was announced he’d be the head coach and GM of the XFL’s Dallas Empire. The XFL won’t begin play until 2020.

While in Norman, Stoops led the Sooners to one national title (2000 over FSU), 10 B12 titles, and a playoff appearance. There’s no doubt that one day he’ll have a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. He’s proven himself capable of bringing consistent and elite success.

The question is how much does he still love college football? Stoops has a pretty sweet gig in Dallas, earning a few million per year while staying off of the recruiting trail. If he still has the fire to get back on the grind, Florida State should kick the tires to see if there’s any interest.

9. Matt Rhule, Head Coach, Baylor Bears (44-40 career record)

Like a couple of the coaches mentioned on here, Rhule is a program builder. He did it at Temple, leading the Owls to back to back 10 win seasons in his final years with the program. Now, he’s doing it again at Baylor, where he took over a completely barren Bears team that was decimated due to the sexual assault scandal a few years back.

After going 1-11 in his season at Baylor, Rhule went 7-6 in 2018 and is currently 8-0. He’s revitalized a program that was at risk of falling back to obscurity. He is currently signed to a deal through 2028 and has one of the top buy-outs in college football according to Footballscoop.com. Rhule might not want to leave what he’s started building with the Bears.

10. James Franklin, Head Coach, Penn State (77-36 career record)

Last but certainly not least is James Franklin. He was reportedly interested in the FSU job when it opened in 2017 but I’m not sure how much he would be today. Franklin is currently leading one of the top college football teams in the country, the Nittany Lions are 8-0 at this point in 2019 and he guided the program to back to back 11 win seasons in 2016-17.

Plain and simple, he’s built a consistent winner during his six years in Happy Valley. Franklin has flirted with other jobs in the past but it’d have to be a hell of a deal to get him away from Penn State. Franklin’s buy-out is just $1 million, which means he’s certainly attainable if he’s interested.

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