New Black Coaches Enjoying Different Results

Willie Taggart, head coach at Florida State. Photo by Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Considering how few top college football teams have Black head coaches, it’s never too soon to review their situations, especially at places that expect immediate and consistent progress. After only three games, it couldn’t look worse for Willie Taggart at Florida State, while despite a crushing loss Saturday night so far things look fairly good for Herman Edwards at Arizona State. 

It seemed like a great move last year when Willie Taggart signed a six-year, $30 million dollar deal to become Florida State’s new head coach. Taggart had enjoyed success at Western Kentucky and South Florida, and done reasonably well at Oregon, though he hadn’t stayed there very long. But he had a background as both a strong defensive coach and a top recruiter, and it was thought he’d be an ideal replacement for Jimbo Fisher. Fisher won one national title at FSU, but soured on the situation and left for Texas A&M.

By contrast, Herman Edwards had been out of coaching for years, and was enjoying a very successful tenure at ESPN as an analyst and frequent contributor to various studio shows. No one anticipated he’d be returning to the sideline, and especially not to college coaching, so it was a major surprise when he took the job at Arizona State. Judging from the early returns, it’s going much better for Edwards than for Taggart.

The first sign FSU might not be quite as good as folks thought came on Labor Day in a nationally televised game, when they got bounced at home by Virginia Tech 24-3. Not scoring a touchdown in your home opener usually makes folks nervous, and losing your conference opener is even worse. There wasn’t much improvement the next week against Samford, a team FSU is expected to beat by four touchdowns. The Seminoles had to rally in the fourth quarter to barely get a victory. Saturday they imploded in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, losing 30-7.

When a national newspaper (USA Today) runs a column citing what it would cost for a buyout after just three games it speaks volumes regarding how much patience Taggart’s going to get from a lot of FSU fans. It didn’t help that this was the first time Florida State lost to Syracuse in 52 years. Obviously three games isn’t a fair measure of anyone’s coaching ability, and USA Today proclaiming that FSU is “a poorly coached team” won’t help matters at all. Everyone connected with the FSU program can only look ahead, because right now at 1-2, the only thing worse would be 0-3.

Meanwhile, Arizona State opened its season with a pair of victories. They had a very tough road loss Saturday night against San Diego State. They rallied from a 28-14 fourth quarter deficit, got within seven with two minutes to go, then recovered a fumble with 43 seconds remaining. With 14 seconds left it seemed receiver Frank Darby had made a great catch at the two-yard line. Plus, there was a targeting call. But in the subsequent review of the play, the catch was negated. Officials claimed the ball hit the ground, despite the vigorous protests of Edwards and his staff. 

ASU eventually lost 28-21. They have another tough road game this week against 10th ranked Washington. But still, for a team that’s long been the butt of jokes throughout the Pac-12, it seems Edwards has at least restored some competitive fire and spirit at ASU. No one picked them to do much this season, but the early season wins got them to the number 23 spot in the coaches’ poll prior to Saturday’s defeat. It will be quite intriguing to see where they finish.

The early season adventures of Taggart and Edwards reinforce the fact that in today’s society coaches don’t get much of an honeymoon. Fan bases want immediate victories, and there is even less margin for error at places like Florida State. As FSU’s first Black head coach, Willie Taggart was already in the spotlight. Now he’s fast becoming a target. By contrast, Herm Edwards is showing, at least for now, that the detractors might have misjudged his abilities, both as a coach and a motivator.

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