Was Willie Taggart the Worst Hire of the 2018 Coaching Class? | McMurphy’s Law

There have been some monumental success stories for college coaches in their second year at their new school.

Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt, Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and Jim Tressel are the most significant. Each posted double-digit win seasons in Year 2 — with Tressel, Stoops and Meyer winning a national championship.

Those are the good examples.

Now, the not-so-good.

On Sunday, Florida State’s Willie Taggart became only the fifth Power Five coach fired for performance reasons before their third season. The others were Jon Embree at Colorado in 2012, Turner Gill at Kansas in 2011, Walt Harris at Stanford in 2006 and Keith Gilbertson at Washington in 2004.

Before the 2018 season, Taggart was among 12 new Power Five coaching hires. His overall record of 9-12 with FSU actually ranks in the middle of the pack among the second-year coaches.

However, one of the biggest detriments was that Florida State’s fanbase had checked out and given up, as evidenced by the drastically declining attendance.

Most telling was this quote from Florida State President John Thrasher: “In the interest of the university, we had no choice but to make a change.”

So, the Seminoles pulled the ripcord on Taggart.

As Taggart and others have learned, by the end of Year 2, the honeymoon is usually over for a new college football coach, especially at the Power Five level.

But how did Taggart compare with the other 2018 Power Five coaching hires?

It’s easy to compare the overall records for the coaches, but instead the following chart only includes games against FBS competition and also ranks the coaches based on the difference in wins and losses from the previous two seasons (2016-17) before they arrived and their two seasons at their new school.

Coach W/L Difference School’s Record With Coach* School’s Previous Record Without Coach (2016-17 Seasons)*
Mario Cristobal**(Oregon) +7.5 15-5 9-14
Dan Mullen (Florida) +3.0 13-5 13-11
Jonathan Smith (Oregon State) +3.0 4-14 3-19
Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) +2.0 13-7 13-11
Herm Edwards (Arizona State) +2.0 11-9 11-13
Kevin Sumlin (Arizona) +1.0 7-12 8-15
Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State) -0.5 11-10 13-11
Chip Kelly (UCLA) -1.0 7-14 10-15
Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee) -2.0 7-12 11-12
Scott Frost (Nebraska) -3.5 7-13 13-12
Willie Taggart (FSU) -5.0 8-12 15-9
Chad Morris (Arkansas) -5.0 2-17 9-14

*Only including games vs. FBS competition
**Cristobal was Oregon’s head coach in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl

Based on win differential, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal is obviously the best hire, and it isn’t close.

Cristobal, who ironically replaced Taggart at Oregon, has had the biggest improvement with 7.5 wins from the past two seasons — Mark Helfrich’s final season at Oregon in 2016 and Taggart’s only season at UO in 2017.

If Oregon wins out this season and captures the Pac-12 title, Cristobal will have guided the Ducks to either a spot in the College Football Playoff or the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since the 2014 season.

Florida’s Dan Mullen and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith are tied with the second-best improvement. Even though they are currently on the opposite end of the spectrum this season, they each have experienced the same three-win improvement at their new schools.

Mullen is actually 17-5 in his second year at Florida, but four of those victories were against FCS opponents, dropping him to 13-5 vs. FBS teams.

Smith has guided the Beavers to three Pac-12 wins this season, tied for the most since Oregon State went 4-5 in league play in 2013. Smith easily took over the program in the worst shape — at least win-loss wise.

The only other Power Five coaches hired in 2018 that have improved on the previous coaching staff’s results are Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin. Both Edwards and Fisher have a slight two-win improvement, while Sumlin is one-win better.

As far as the coaches whose programs have regressed the most in the win-loss category, Arkansas’ Chad Morris tied with Taggart for the worst W-L difference (-5.0) from 2018’s batch of coaching hires.

Morris has only two wins against FBS opponents (Colorado State and Tulsa) and is winless in SEC play and 0-14 against Power Five opponents.

Nebraska’s Scott Frost, who has a -3.5 W-L difference, is third-worst of the dozen coaches. Of the entire group, Frost’s hiring was lauded nationally as the best, but so far the Cornhuskers haven’t been able to meet those lofty expectations.

After last year’s 4-8 season, Nebraska (4-5) could be headed for a third consecutive losing season, including Mike Riley’s final season in 2017. If so, that would mark Nebraska’s worst three-year stretch in nearly 60 years.

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