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10 possible candidates to become next Florida State head coach

These are some names being discussed as possibilities to lead Seminoles

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart tries to keep his team from fighting with Miami players after the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles 27-10, Nov. 2, 2019, at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

With the Willie Taggart era over at Florida State after just 21 games, here's a look at 10 possible candidates to replace him.

P.J. Fleck, Minnesota head coach

Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck looks on before a game against the Maryland Terrapins at TCF Bank Stadium on Oct. 26, 2019 in Minneapolis.

The 38-year-old former Northern Illinois wide receiver parlayed a 30-22 record in four seasons at Western Michigan, including a 13-1 mark and Cotton Bowl berth during the 2016 season, into a job at Minnesota. Under Fleck, the Golden Gophers have improved from 5-7 to 7-6 to 8-0 and a No. 13 national ranking in his third season. Multiple sources told Florida State fan site Warchant.com that Fleck was in Tallahassee last week.

Pros: He's a young and proven winner since coaching wide receivers at his alma mater, Rutgers and the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cons: Fleck has no real ties to Florida or the Southeast, other than his one-year stint with the Buccaneers.

Bob Stoops, head coach and general manager of XFL's Dallas Renegades

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops looks on during the Sugar Bowl against the Auburn Tigers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Jan. 2, 2017, in New Orleans.

This is likely a long shot, considering ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said Stoops told him he's not a candidate, but it's worth pursuing given his success as a college coach. Stoops was 190-48 in 18 seasons at Oklahoma, winning 10 or more games in all but four seasons from 1999-2016. His retirement in June 2017 was somewhat of a surprise, but he's obviously still got an appetite for it after being named head coach and general manager of the XFL's Dallas Renegades, who begin play in February 2020.

Pros: In just his second year, Stoops led the Sooners to an undefeated season, culminating with a 13-2 victory against Florida State in the Orange Bowl to win the national title.

Cons: Before heading to Oklahoma, Stoops served as Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida. They remain close friends. That's a definite turnoff for Seminoles.

Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach

Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops looks on during the first half of a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on Sept. 28, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina.

This is a more realistic possibility. The younger brother of the aforementioned Bob Stoops, Mark Stoops spent three seasons as defensive coordinator for the Seminoles under Jimbo Fisher before leaving to take the Kentucky job. The 2018 Southeastern Conference coach of the year has led the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games. He's also the architect behind Kentucky's first 10-win season since 1977.

Pros: If he can win at a basketball school like Kentucky, he shouldn't have much trouble winning in football-crazed Tallahassee. Plus, he's familiar with Florida State, where the Seminoles had the No. 6 and No. 4 defenses in his final two seasons.

Cons: His overall record is 40-43. That's three games under .500, which was the case when Florida State hired Taggart from Oregon in December 2017.

Billy Napier, Louisiana head coach

Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns head coach Billy Napier yells in the second quarter of a game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Aug. 31, 2019, in New Orleans.

Napier took over Louisiana after just one season as offensive coordinator at Arizona State and had the Ragin' Cajuns competing for a Sun Belt Conference championship in his debut season last year. Louisiana is currently 6-2 and in first place in the Sun Belt's West Division standings.

Pros: Napier, a former quarterback at Furman, fits the mold. He cut his coaching chops in places like Clemson, South Carolina State and Alabama, and he's recruiting in the fertile Pelican State, where the Seminoles once scooped up running back Warrick Dunn.

Cons: The 40-year-old Georgia native hasn't been a head coach for very long and spent the majority of his career as a position coach.

Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney (center) watches the action while defensive coordinator Brent Venables calls out a play during the second half of a game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Aug. 29, 2019, in Clemson, South Carolina.

Venables, a longtime defensive coordinator and 2016 Broyles Award winner as the nation's top assistant coach, has won national titles at Oklahoma and Clemson. Earning a $2 million annual salary, Venables is the second-highest paid assistant in college football behind LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

Pros: Venables has waited patiently for the right opportunity. Could this be it? Per his contract, he has no buyout if he leaves to become a head coach. 

Cons: He would be unproven as a head coach, but so was Fisher when the Seminoles tapped him to succeed Bobby Bowden after the 2009 season.

Jeff Scott, Clemson co-offensive coordinator

Clemson Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has Gatorade dumped on him after their 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.

Scott is the son of former Florida State offensive coordinator Brad Scott, who later left to become head coach at South Carolina and then an assistant under Tommy Bowden and Dabo Swinney at Clemson. Jeff Scott, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2018, has been Clemson's co-offensive coordinator since Chad Morris left for SMU in December 2014.

Pros: He has the pedigree. Plus, he's dissected Florida State's defense for five straight seasons.

Cons: The 38-year-old may be a bit raw to lead a program like Florida State. He may need to shed the "co" in his title first.

James Coley, Georgia offensive coordinator

Georgia Bulldogs assistant coach James Coley screams on the sideline during the first half of a game against the Auburn Tigers, Nov. 12, 2016, in Athens, Georgia.

Coley has served under former Florida State graduate assistant Kirby Smart at Georgia since he took over in 2016. The 46-year-old spent his first two seasons as wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs before sharing offensive coordinator duties with Jim Chaney in 2018. Coley was promoted to sole offensive coordinator this year upon Chaney's departure.

Pros: Coley is a guy with deep Florida roots. He grew up in Miami, graduated from Florida State in 1997 and served as Fisher's first offensive coordinator from 2010-12. Considered an ace recruiter in talent-rich South Florida, Coley has also been the offensive coordinator at Miami and Florida International.

Cons: Although he's been an offensive coordinator at several big-time programs, Coley hasn't had a ton of play-calling experience. Fisher called the plays throughout Coley's tenure in Tallahassee, and Chaney called the plays for the Bulldogs last season.

Kendal Briles, Florida State offensive coordinator

Florida State Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart (right) talks with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles in the second half of a game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

The 36-year-old son of disgraced former head coach Art Briles, Kendal Briles joined the Seminoles earlier this year after stops at Houston, Florida Atlantic and Baylor, where he coached with his father. He was given the reigns of Taggart's offense, which has shown nominal improvement compared to last season.

Pros: He's been successful as an offensive coordinator everywhere he's been.

Cons: If he were a legitimate option, wouldn't he be the interim coach instead of Odell Haggins? Briles hasn't been overly impressive in his brief time in Tallahassee. Plus, he'll always have the stigma of the Baylor sex assault scandal hanging over him.

Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic head coach

FAU Owls head coach Lane Kiffin stares into the camera during warmups before the start of a game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at FAU Stadium on Oct. 12, 2019 in Boca Raton, Florida.

There was talk of Kiffin coming to Tallahassee after Fisher bolted for Texas A&M. The 44-year-old son of longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, he has been a head coach in the NFL and college ranks, most recently at Southern California, and has been employed by championship coaches Pete Carroll, Tom Coughlin and Nick Saban in his career.

Pros: He's had success at FAU. The Owls are 22-13 in Kiffin's tenure, including a school-record 11-win season and Conference USA championship in his debut season in 2017. Essentially, he's finding ways to win with lesser talent while competing with Florida State, Florida and Miami for the state's top recruits. CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd, citing sources, said Kiffin has expressed interest in the job.

Cons: He doesn't have a great track record of staying at one place for very long (see Tennessee in 2009). He was also fired five games into his fourth season at USC -- another school with championship expectations.

Jim Leavitt, Florida State analyst

Oregon Ducks defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt congratulates quarterback Justin Herbert after a game against the Arizona Wildcats, Nov. 18, 2017, in Eugene, Oregon.

Leavitt was the first head coach in South Florida history, leading the Bulls to a 95-57 record from 1997-2009. After four years coaching linebackers for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, Leavitt returned to college and became a successful defensive coordinator at Colorado and Oregon. He joined the Seminoles as a quality control analyst in September.

Pros: He's already at Florida State and has experience building a program into a winner.

Cons: Leavitt was fired by USF in 2010 amid allegations that he struck a player in the locker room during halftime of a game. He also has ties to Taggart, who couldn't lure him away from Oregon when Taggart took the job. Besides, Florida State already hired a former USF head coach and that didn't work out so well.


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