TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first time in 37 years, Florida State’s football season is over before the calendar flips to December.
It’s virtually uncharted territory for the program, but coach Willie Taggart has no intention of staying there for long.
In the moments following FSU’s season-ending, 41-14 defeat to No. 13 Florida on Saturday, Taggart said that the moving-on process will begin immediately.
That starts with some internal evaluation on Saturday night, then continues in earnest on Sunday, when Taggart and his staff make their way out on the recruiting trail.
The NCAA’s approved contact period begins Sunday, and the first day of the early signing period is December 19.
“We go back to work,” Taggart said, when asked how he and the Seminoles will move forward.
“We’ve got to get out recruiting, starting tomorrow, and make sure we’re getting some really good football players in here to help us turn the program back around.”
While Taggart will no doubt have a lengthy to-do list over the next several months, there may be no higher priority than to secure a strong signing class.
FSU must replace nine seniors from the two-deep, and will potentially be without a handful of juniors who could choose to go pro.
Beyond that, there might not be a single position on FSU’s depth chart that didn’t deal with bouts of inexperience, ineffectiveness or a lack of depth during the 2018 campaign.
So Taggart should have a pretty strong sales pitch. And no, he doesn’t believe any prospect on his wish list will be scared off by the Seminoles’ 5-7 record.
“We’re at Florida State,” he said. “A lot of kids want to play here. We’ve got to make sure we get the right kids and not just any kid that wants to be here.”
Taggart intends to shine a light on his program, too.
He’ll set his gaze to his staff, his remaining players, his infrastructure and even himself.
“I’m going to evaluate everything within our program and make sure that we have everything going in the right direction,” he said. “Having a year here, and understanding things a lot better, you can make a better evaluation. …
“We will do what’s best for Florida State football.”
He’ll likely find room for improvement across the board.
While there were flashes of potential throughout the season – see the way the offense went 65 yards in four plays and 42 seconds to score against Florida on Saturday, or the way the defense made life miserable for Boston College’s rushing attack the week before – the Seminoles at times were sub-par in all three phases of the game.
They woke up Sunday morning ranked 104th nationally in total offense, 80th in total defense and 103rd in field-goal percentage.
And, perhaps most painful, the Seminoles finished as the most penalized team in the country.
FSU’s 10 infractions against Florida raised its season total to 110.
“It’s very frustrating,” Taggart said.
“And those things have killed us throughout the season. We’ve got to make sure that we look within ourselves as coaches and what we’re asking them to do, (and) making sure that we have the players that can do it and get it done consistently enough.”
To Florida State fans, it might all sound like a daunting task. Particularly with a long offseason of analysis and debate ahead.
For Taggart, though, this isn’t anything new.
His first team at Western Kentucky went 2-10, before rebounding for back-to-back 7-5 campaigns. Along the way, Taggart led the Hilltoppers to their first ever bowl appearance and their first win over a Southeastern Conference school.
Taggart’s first team at South Florida, meanwhile, went 2-10, then 4-8, 8-5 and 10-2 in the years the followed.
Even his first team at Oregon went 7-5, after finishing 4-8 the season before.
The rebuilding process requires patience, and it’s rarely easy.
Taggart’s track record, however, suggests that the Seminoles will have brighter days ahead. And FSU’s head coach thinks they might be closer than they appear.
“Personally, I don’t think it’s as far as it may look,” he said. “I’ve been through something like this, (but) no one here really has.
“Again, that’s why I was brought here – to build this program back to where it belongs. … And it’s not a panic situation, it’s a work situation.”