Florida State’s offensive coordinator search is ongoing. Here are some things I am hearing.
I have no reason to believe that Hugh Freeze, who took the head coaching position at Liberty Friday morning, was actually a top choice of either Willie Taggart or FSU decision-makers. I believe that notion was emanating from elsewhere, perhaps the Freeze camp itself. Unfortunately, due to some media running with this notion, it now looks like FSU/Taggart whiffed on their top choice, who was in fact not their top choice. While Freeze has been a successful offensive coordinator, he is not known for his organizational abilities, but rather his creative offenses. It is that organizational ability with which some inside Florida State believe Taggart needs assistance.
Additionally, would Freeze have undercut Taggart’s authority if hired, having been a head coach before? Would he be at Florida State for more than a year? Both were legitimate worries, given that FSU just had a single-year coordinator in Walt Bell.
And while we have seen Freeze successfully recruit against rumors of NCAA impropriety, we have not seen how his Holy Roller act plays on the recruiting trail after he lost his job following the escort scandal. He may no longer be an elite recruiter.
So while fans have been whipped into a frenzy thinking FSU missed on its top target, that is not the impression I received from FSU sources.
I’ve also been told that there are significant reservations about Kendal Briles being a candidate due to his time on staff at Baylor, during which the school had the largest sexual assault scandal in NCAA history.
Baylor is a private institution, so many of its records are shielded from public record requests. But the allegations in various lawsuits are jarring, though not established as fact.
The lawsuit describes a culture of sexual violence under former Baylor football coach Art Briles in which the school implemented a “show ‘em a good time” policy that “used sex to sell” the football program to recruits. That included escorting underage recruits to strip clubs and arranging women to have sex with prospective players, the suit alleges.
Former assistant coach Kendal Briles — the son of the head coach — once told a Dallas-area student athlete, “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players,” according to the suit.
Investigation by lawyers identified at least 52 “acts of rape,” including five gang rapes, by 31 football players in a four-year period. At least two of the gang rapes were committed by 10 or more players at one time, the suit states.
This contrasts with figures Baylor officials have provided based on an investigation by Pennsylvania-based law firm Pepper Hamilton, which looked into how Baylor handled sexual assault on campus. Regents told The Wall Street Journal in October that they were aware of 17 women who reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011.
Whether it was 52 acts of rape by 31 players over four seasons, or 17 by 19, either are huge, gross numbers. And Briles was on staff for all of those seasons.
Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense derived some of its inspiration from the Baylor scheme, and there is no doubt that he would be an asset from a football standpoint.
However, if FSU even wanted to hire Briles, FSU would have to be so thorough in its due diligence, be satisfied with what it finds out (if it can even find out everything it would need to know), and still be ready to be subjected to an enormous PR backlash, whether deserved or not. For a school with FSU’s recent reputation, this is something many aren’t looking to deal with.
I’m not even certain that level of vetting is possible due to the unavailable nature of some records, or even if it would be worth it.
The hire of Briles isn’t impossible, but there are significant obstacles.
I also do not believe that recently fired Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury was a legitimate candidate.
He runs a much different offense than Taggart, and installing a different system is not going to lead to success as quickly as Taggart needs to have it if he wants to be at FSU for the long term. A hot name, sure, but not necessarily the right fit.
Willie Taggart and Florida State are doing an excellent job of keeping things quiet. I suspect a lot of what has been published elsewhere has come from outside sources.
I’ve heard the name of Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott mentioned. Scott would make a lot of sense in that he is from Tallahassee, recruits the state well, runs a similar spread offense, would likely not look to leave after just one season, and has a great understanding of how Clemson, a program Willie Taggart has visited and expressed admiration for, really works. He is also without a major scandal on his record, which is a plus. And Scott would be able to be the primary playcaller, as opposed to the current co-coordinator arrangement at Clemson.
I’ve also heard the name Larry Fedora mentioned. Fedora is a strong recruiter, runs a similar spread offense, and is very experienced. He would also come with the short-term risk and potential usurp risk of someone who has been a head coach for a long time, potentially looking to get back to being a head coach quickly.
And I’ve heard the name Mike Sanford Jr. Sanford and Taggart have worked together for three seasons— two at Stanford, and one at Western Kentucky. He was the OC at Boise State in 2014, and Notre Dame in 2015-16, before being fired as the head coach of Western Kentucky.
I have no idea who will be the next offensive coordinator at Florida State. But FSU will pay up if it needs to, and finding the right fit should be more important than simply hiring someone famous.
The timing of the hire will be interesting. Early Signing Period begins in 12 days. And while this issue is not important to most recruits, since FSU is not going to have a stark departure of system, it will likely matter to QB commit Sam Howell, who remains committed. Remember, the departed Walt Bell was also the QB coach. I would suspect Howell will know who the new OC will be before the ESP; whether or not it is officially announced or made before the playoffs is another story.