Sunday afternoon Florida State administrators pulled a $20 million trigger to relieve Willie Taggart and his coaching staff of their duties after less than two seasons in Tallahassee.
Since his dismissal, Mark Stoops has made every media member’s short list of coaching candidates. In odds released by Bet Online, Stoops is the second-favorite to fill the vacancy at 4/1. At this morning’s press conference, the former Florida State defensive coordinator dismissed the speculation, comparing it to the annual spring conversation surrounding potential NBA destinations for John Calipari.
“I guess with success, you’re going to have some of that,” he said. “For me, sitting around here, this is six and a half years. I sit there listening to Coach Cal and every year, he’s going to the NBA right? So you just dismiss it and concentrate on the things you can control and not going to get into speculation. I’m going to talk about the University of Kentucky and Tennessee.”
While he focuses on Tennessee, we can continue to speculate as to why Stoops would want to leave to take the Florida State job, or stay at UK.
LEAVE: History in the state of Florida
The reason why his name appears shortly after his brother’s on every list is his experience at Florida State. His final non-head coaching gig was on Jimbo Fisher’s staff, building the Seminoles’ defense into one of the best in the nation in only three years. A decade earlier he spent three seasons in Miami, winning a national title as the Canes’ secondary coach. He knows the expectations and the football climate in the Sunshine State.
STAY: Administrative Uncertainty
Stoops is well aware of the expectations, the good and the bad. The empty stadium was a big reason why Taggart was let go with four games remaining on the schedule. Some may say the administration was just getting a head-start into the hiring process, while others see the quick termination as a deterrent for the next coach. From Bruce Feldman:
One coach who I would’ve seen as a viable option told me that when you fire a coach before two years are up, that means you have some problems, and that deterred him. Neither the school president nor athletic director are expected to be in place long-term. There’s also some dysfunction with booster structure.
Struggling coaches are sitting ducks once they get a new boss. Tom Jurich may have given Bobby Petrino another year because Bobby has Tom’s guy. Vince Tyra had no need to show allegiance to someone he did not hire. If the rebuild takes longer then the new administrators would like, Stoops could be looking for a new job quicker than promised in the interview room.
LEAVE: A National Championship
Does Mark Stoops want to win a National Championship? If so, he probably has to leave Kentucky at some point. College football has not had a first-time National Champion since Steve Spurrier brought one back to Florida in 1996. Even though FSU has fallen on wayward times, they are only six years removed from a title. Being the man who returns the Seminoles to glory has to be an enticing offer.
Age is also a factor, and not in a good way for Kentucky. Stoops is 52. On the precipice of reaching his prime coaching years, he has to decide if he wants to make one more big move to try to get a title or make UK has final destination. Time is ticking.
STAY: Kentucky’s 2020 Roster is Loaded
Timing is on Kentucky’s side. FSU fans probably don’t want to hire a guy who’s essentially been a seven-win coach with one good season. Next year is set up to be another big year, maybe even better than UK’s 2018 season. With Terry Wilson returning from injury, 19 seniors, 18 juniors and an entire freshman class that just redshirted, a second challenge at Georgia for the SEC East crown would prove 2018 was not just a fluke. Stoops spent the bye week evaluating the 2020 roster to determine how to finish the best recruiting class in school history. For the BBN’s sake, it’s a good thing that is fresh on his mind.
LEAVE: Recruiting in Florida is Easy
“There are some places where you can wake up, walk out your front door and get five-stars.”
That quote did not publicly come directly from Mark Stoops’ mouth, but that sentiment was shared through the grapevine early in his tenure. There are a couple of jobs that are too good to turn down, a la Calipari and Kentucky. Stoops’ bread and butter at Kentucky has been in Ohio, but he’s done well in Florida too. There are 19 players on this year’s roster from Florida, trailing only Kentucky and Ohio.
STAY: Stoops’ Style of Play
The greatest complaint from Kentucky fans could be what keeps Stoops at UK. Florida State wants to win with high-powered offense. It’s how Jimbo Fisher got them a title with Jameis Winston at quarterback and a big reason why they initially hired Taggart. Smash mouth defense and four yards in a cloud of dust is a tough sell to Seminole fans while Dan Mullen lights up scoreboards in Gainesville. Stoops also isn’t the flashiest, rah-rah guy, while one his top competitors, Manny Diaz, eats and breathes the stuff at Miami.
LEAVE: A Cheap Buyout
Florida State has already dropped about $20 million to get rid of Taggart. They don’t want that to turn into a quarter of a billion dollars before negotiating the new coach’s salary. Stoops’ renegotiated contract fits their budget. The latest change dropped it to only $1.75 million if he leaves after this season, chump change in comparison to other buyouts.
Salary is a different story. Currently slated to make $4.75 million, the juice needs to be worth the squeeze for Stoops. If they tacked on an extra million a year, he would be just outside of the top ten in all of college football. Not too shabby.
STAY: Family Perspective
As I have alluded to throughout this back and forth, there are only so many jobs like Florida State. It’s why Charlie Strong left a good thing at Louisville for Texas, a situation not so different than what Stoops faces now. That’s not the cautionary tale that will prevent Stoops from making the leap to Tallahassee if he is offered the job. All he has to do is look at his brother. He alluded to his unique perspective at the conclusion of today’s press conference.
“There’s things that are important to me that what people perceive as an easier job or a better job — we always as coaches have a great perspective with my family of looking at things and doing what’s right for you and your family.”
In Bob’s second season at Oklahoma he won a National Championship. Over the next 15 years he had double-digit wins in all but three seasons. Even after all he had done for the program, those eight-win seasons would be filled with not so quiet backlash from fans, questioning his coaching competence.
Mark Stoops is well aware of the expectations that come with a program of Florida State’s caliber. If offered the job he must ultimately answer the question: does he want to try to win a national title, or get rewarded handsomely to try to surpass Bear Bryant as the greatest coach to ever walk a Kentucky sideline?