Jimbo Fisher has officially left Florida State for the Texas A&M job, leaving one of college football’s top programs open.
Florida State is in uncharted territory with Fisher’s long-rumored departure to College Station coming to fruition.
Fisher was named head coach-in-waiting after one year as offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden, and has led the ‘Noles for the last eight seasons, including the 2013 national championship. Before him, Bowden served as head coach from 1976-2009. This will be the first true coaching search for the program since the mid-1970s.
With the rise of Clemson, and the fact that a mid-tier SEC program just poached a national championship-winning coach, Florida State is a tricky spot to navigate, but it is still a top program and a destination job. Here are some potential candidates to fill this massive position.
Willie Taggart – Oregon Head Coach
Taggart is considered the favorite, at least for those of us outside the program, and is the name that has been most bandied about for the potential ‘Noles opening. He improved Oregon from 4-8 to 7-5 in his first year with the Ducks, despite losing starting quarterback Justin Herbert for a large chunk of the season. Before taking over Oregon, Taggart turned USF into one of the top Group of Five programs in the country. He is also a Florida native, and continues to be one of the best recruiters of the Sunshine State in the country, bringing seven players from it to the Ducks in his first recruiting cycle.
James Franklin – Penn State Head Coach
Early last season, it looked like Franklin might not be long for State College. And not because he would be in line for a job like Florida State. After losses to Pitt and Michigan, the Nittany Lions engineered a massive turnaround, beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. PSU followed it up with another strong 10-2 season and is probably bound for another New Year’s Six bowl trip.
Has he brushed up against the ceiling for Penn State though? Maybe not, but Franklin already lost Joe Moorhead, the coordinator that transformed his much-maligned offense, to Mississippi State, and stud running back Saquon Barkley is NFL-bound. He could see jumping to Florida State as a big opportunity to keep his personal momentum going. He is also a top recruiter, who could probably rival Fisher’s efforts in that regard. Florida State will need to pony up to pull him away from his home state, though.
Justin Fuente – Virginia Tech Head Coach
Virginia Tech hired Fuente to replace legendary coach Frank Beamer, and he hasn’t missed a beat, going 19-7 through two years, winning the ACC Coastal Division in 2016. His more impressive job, however, may have been bringing an absolutely moribund Memphis program to the top of a solid AAC in just two years. It’s hard to find a more solid coaching resume than what Fuente has done, and at 41, he could be around for a while.
Scott Frost – UCF Head Coach
In just two years as head coach of UCF, Scott Frost made himself the hottest Group of Five coaching candidate in the country. The former Oregon offensive coordinator had a prolonged flirtation with Florida before the Gators hired Dan Mullen, leading some to think that he is in line to take over at Nebraska, which has been very quiet since it fired Mike Riley, potentially waiting for Frost to finish up with the Knights during this weekend’s AAC Championship. That theory seems very plausible, which means Florida State would have to make quick work.
Charlie Strong – USF Head Coach
Strong never got things going at Texas, which is a major blow against him, and probably means that he’ll be down the list for Florida State. However, the man knows the state of Florida, and he can absolutely recruit. He has extensive experience in the state from his multiple assistant stints with the Florida Gators, and is now the head coach at USF, where he took over for Taggart and has taken the Bulls to a 9-2 record. Before coaching Texas, Strong built Louisville into a Big East and AAC power capable of playing with some of the top programs in the country. His stock can still use some rebuilding, but he would almost definitely have a better chance at success with the Seminoles than he did in Austin.
Jeff Brohm – Purdue Head Coach
Brohm is in just his first year at Purdue, but he’s made some serious noise, turning one of the worst teams in major college football into a bowl qualifier in year one, quickly installing his exciting, up-tempo offensive attack. He was reportedly approached by Tennessee, but is one of many coaches to turn away the Vols. Florida State is a much better job, and isn’t the total tire fire that Tennessee is right now. He might not be a big enough name for FSU yet though.
Jeremy Pruitt – Alabama Defensive Coordinator
There aren’t many guys out there with Florida State roots that can come in, but Pruitt spent one very notable season on staff in Tallahassee. He was the defensive coordinator for the ‘Noles when they captured their recent national championship, and has gone on to hold the same position at Georgia and now his alma mater Alabama. In his one year at FSU, Pruitt’s unit led the nation in scoring defense. He’s considered one of the top defensive coordinators in college football. Pruitt’s abrupt exit from Florida State after the championship remains a bit of a mystery, as he took a pretty lateral Georgia job after just one year under Jimbo Fisher. Still, he seems destined for a head coaching job soon, and was a candidate for Mississippi State before it hired Joe Moorhead. Florida State is probably looking for an established head coach, but if it has to dip into the coordinator ranks, Pruitt is probably the name that makes the most sense.