Willie Taggart’s rapid coaching rise ended Sunday with his firing from the Florida State head football coaching job after just 21 games, the last of which was Saturday’s 27-10 home loss to the University of Miami.
That left Taggart at 9-12 over two seasons, 5-7 in 2018 and 4-5 this season. Most programs would consider such seasons inevitable dips in fortune. At one of college-affiliated football’s powerhouse programs over the last 40 years, they count as intolerable.
Also, this season, the Seminoles lost to Boise State at home, edged Louisiana-Monroe by one point at home and, for the second consecutive season, didn’t look as if they belonged on the same field with national title contender Clemson. In 2018, they lost 59-10 to Clemson, 30-7 to Syracuse, 41-14 to archrival Florida, 42-13 to Notre Dame in addition to 28-27 to the Hurricanes.
“I think very highly of Coach Taggart and wish him well, but in the interest of the university we had no choice but to make a change,” said FSU President John Thrasher in a statement on the FSU athletics website. “We will support our student-athletes in every way and do all we can to return to the winning tradition that is Seminole football.”
Taggart Tweeted his own reaction Sunday afternoon:
“Obviously, I am disappointed in the decision today, as I believe our future is bright at Florida State. Building a program and a culture takes time and I regret that we will not have the opportunity to continue to coach these incredible young men.
“I want to thank first and foremost our student-athletes, who never stopped believing and who deserve to find success. I also want to thank our coaches and staff who believe in what we were building and who are among the finest men and women in our profession.
“Finally, I want to thank the Florida State faithful for their support as we worked towards building a program that they could be proud of. On behalf of my family and I, we wish Florida State nothing but the best and will be cheering on the Seminoles the rest of the way.”
It’s an expensive decision. In addition to paying whoever succeeds Taggart, FSU likely has to pay up on four years left on a six-year agreement. Footballscoop.com notes the termination without cause part of Taggart’s deal leaves Florida State owing 85 percent of the remaining salary or about $17 million, but doesn’t make clear if the contract states whether a losing win/loss record counts as cause.
Associate head coach in charge of the defensive line Odell Haggins will take over for the remainder of the 2019 season, as he did the last two games in 2017 after Jimbo Fisher and FSU divorced.
“I spoke to Coach Taggart this afternoon to let him know of our decision,” FSU athletic director David Coburn said in the athletic department’s release. “I met with the team and coaches immediately after that conversation to let them know of the change. It was very important to us that the student-athletes know right away.
“We deeply appreciate all that Coach Taggart has done for our program and wish him and his family nothing but the best.”
Taggart, a Palmetto, Florida, native, returned to alma mater Western Kentucky as a head coach in 2010 with Western on a 20-game losing streak. The former All-State quarterback at Bradenton Manatee used a throwback formula — I-formation, all-about-the-tailback offense, physical defense — to turn the Hilltoppers into winners with a pair of 7-5 records in 2011 and 2012.
Taggart then went to the University of South Florida, where having Jackson High graduate Quinton Flowers at quarterback helped the Bulls go from 2-10 in Taggart’s first season to 10-2 in 2016. That got him the job at Oregon, which had sunk to 4-8 in 2016 after nine seasons of at least nine wins.
In his first season as head coach of a Power Five conference team, Taggart went 7-5, 4-5 in the Pac-12, both improvements on 2016 if below the standards of Oregon from 2005-2015. Florida State reached across the country for Taggart. Now, they’ll be reaching into teh bank account to make this switch.