When it comes to relationships, timing is often everything — in life and also in football.
We’re reminded of that this week as Florida State head coach Willie Taggart looks to replace offensive coordinator Walt Bell in what likely will be Taggart’s first step in reshaping his coaching staff.
We don’t yet know which direction Taggart will go, but recently fired North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora and Houston offensive coordinator Kendal Briles have emerged as the leading candidates. (See our Coaching Update Thread for the latest developments Saturday morning.)
If Taggart ends up going with Fedora, it would be a fascinating culmination of a flirtation that started nearly 15 years ago.
Back in 2004, when Ron Zook’s staff was fired midseason at Florida, Fedora was the Gators’ offensive coordinator. Even though Zook learned he would be dismissed in late October, his staff was permitted to coach the final four games of that season, and they put together their best month of the season.
After falling to heavily favored Georgia, 31-24, the Gators rolled to a 34-17 victory at Vanderbilt and a 48-14 win over South Carolina. Then they came to Tallahassee for what was supposed to be a garnet-and-gold celebration.
Despite struggling with an inconsistent offense, which had failed to score more than 20 points in five of their first 10 games, the Seminoles were 8-2, ranked in the top 10 of both major polls, and hadn’t lost to rival Florida in Tallahassee in nearly 20 years. The Gators were thought to be playing out the string with a lame-duck coaching staff.
It seemed as good a time as any to honor legendary head coach Bobby Bowden with the naming of the field at Doak Campbell Stadium in his honor.
Instead, Zook, Fedora and company crashed the party. The Gators played inspired football, Fedora crafted a very good game plan against an outstanding Seminole defense, and UF pulled off the 20-13 upset victory.
Zook received an emotional Gatorade bath at the end of that game, but I always felt that the more interesting story that day was Fedora. It was no secret at the time that Fedora was very interested in joining Bobby Bowden’s staff and reinvigorating the FSU offense.
By that point, it had become painfully clear — to everyone other than Bowden — that his decision to promote his son Jeff to offensive coordinator was a disaster. Despite still possessing worlds of talent up and down the roster, the Seminoles’ offense steadily declined after he took the job in 2001. And it was particularly bad in 2004, scoring 10 points in an opening loss to Miami and mustering just 17 in ACC games against Syracuse, Maryland and N.C. State.