TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State fired coach Willie Taggart on Sunday, ending his tenure with the Seminoles after only 21 games.
Under Taggart, the Seminoles showed little to no progress, and an embarrassing 27-10 loss to rival Miami on Saturday made it clear to administrators they had to make a change. Florida State dropped to 4-5, and needs wins in two of its final three games just to get back to bowl eligibility.
In Year 1 last season, Florida State failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 1981.
“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,” Florida State University president John Thrasher said. “We will support our student-athletes in every way and do all we can to return to the winning tradition that is Seminole football.”
Florida State assistant Odell Haggins, who served as interim coach after Jimbo Fisher left in 2017, will once again serve as interim coach.
FSU raised about $20 million in private donations to buy out what was left of Taggart’s contract, sources told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. However, an FSU official denied that the money was raised for Taggart’s buyout.
Under the terms of Taggart’s six-year, $30 million contract, FSU’s athletic department will owe him 85% of his remaining compensation through Jan. 31, 2024, which is between $17 million and $18 million. The Seminoles also paid Oregon a $3 million buyout when it hired him away from the Ducks in December 2017, as well as the remaining $1.3 million buyout Oregon owed South Florida when it hired him in December 2016.
In both seasons under Taggart, FSU significantly underperformed its expected results from the Football Power Index. At the start of 2018, FSU was ranked 18th in FPI; they finished 67th. This season, they were ranked 22nd at the start of the year; they’re currently 46th.
After the Seminoles went 5-7 last year, the heat started to build in Tallahassee, though Taggart inherited a team that struggled to make a bowl game in Fisher’s final season. Taggart arrived at Florida State with high hopes, leaving Oregon after just one season to take what he called his “dream job.” During his introductory press conference, he spoke with eagerness and optimism, vowing to take Florida State back to being the Florida State of old.
But as soon as he took a look at the roster, he realized there were myriad issues to overcome. Florida State had major issues on the offensive line and no clear-cut quarterback, and both those problems became abundantly clear in a disastrous game to open the 2018 season, losing at home to Virginia Tech 24-3 that signaled to anyone who thought Florida State would make an immediate turnaround it might take a while.
After the season ended, Taggart talked about trying to bring his entire team together, saying he felt he had a divided locker room in his first season. He felt good about the team he brought back, and said this past April, “Florida State has never been in this position where we were 5-7. It’s been a long time since it was that way, rightfully so everybody’s upset and question things. That’s the world we live in, when things don’t go right we start to question things, but we’ve got to stay locked in to our vision and our goals and where we want to go with our program and we can’t allow those other things to interfere with that. If we do, we won’t get to where we’re going. We’ve got to stay focused. The standard, that doesn’t change here because we had a bad year doesn’t mean the standard changes. You don’t come here to change that standard, you come here to win and win championships and we’re never going to go away from that.”
But the same issues that hurt Florida State came back in a major way this year, with poor offensive line play, inconsistency at quarterback and an undisciplined team that still commits far too many penalties. Against Miami, Florida State had 10 penalties and gave up nine sacks. What’s more, in rival games against Clemson, Miami and Florida, the Seminoles were winless under Taggart and lost by double digits in four of the five games.
At Florida State, that’s where progress is measured, because the reality is championships are expected.
Indeed, after the loss to Miami, Taggart sounded nearly the same as he did after that 2018 loss to Virginia Tech, saying the performance was unacceptable, frustrating and the coaches would have to work harder during practice.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to winning,” Taggart said after the game Saturday. “We’ve got to find a way to win. We know what we’ve got going on inside. Our guys are fighting. I don’t think you’re going to please anyone until you win ball games. That’s my job. We’ve got to find a way to get this program back to where it belongs. We’ll work our tails off to do that. We’ve got three ball games left, and I don’t think there’s any quit on anybody in there. Everybody’s going to be committed to those three ball games.”
But after 21 games, it became clear that there was only so much this coaching staff could to do make the serious changes Florida State feels to get the program headed in the right direction.