There is no job in sports with more potential to simultaneously enrich and embarrass than being a Division I college football coach.
You do not just coach a team, you do so at the pleasure of a demanding constituency, an administration expecting results and an influential and well-heeled alumni with the little patience for failure.
Willie Taggart understood the inherent benefits and risks when he agreed to coach Florida State prior to the 2018 season. But he never could have expected to be tethered to a leash only 21 games long.
After struggling to make progress with the one of the sports most honored programs, Taggart was fired Sunday a few hours after a 27-10 loss to Miami.
The defeat dropped the Seminoles to 4-5. That means they’ll need to win two of their final three games to be bowl eligible, something they also were not last season for the first time since 1981.
That is not a situation Florida State ever expects itself to be in.
“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.”
Taggart was obviously stunned by the news and in a statement said he was saddened by the decision.
“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,” his statement said.
Taggart was no doubt aware a fundraising effort was taking place behind his back to raise the money needed to buy him out. By its end, some reports indicated Seminoles boosters raised over $20 million to relieve themselves of Taggart, who replaced Jimbo Fisher after he left to coach Texas A&M.
Taggart signed a six-year, $30 million deal and FSU will owe 85% of his remaining compensation, which is between $17 million and $18 million. But there is more. The Seminoles also paid Oregon $3 million when it hired him as well as the remaining $1.3 million of a buyout Oregon owed South Florida when the Ducks hired him from there in December 2016.
Taggart’s problems began immediately. The Seminoles were 5-7 last year, but some were willing to give him a pass because of how problematic Fisher’s last team was in 2017. You figured Taggart would need to time build back the depth and install his own philosophy. But he never received the chance.
Those covering the team point to Florida State’s struggling offense as the big reason Taggart was fired. Problems along the offensive line and a quarterback manifested themselves right from the start of his reign. Taggart acknowledge he had some problems in the locker room last season, but he vowed to fix them.
Florida State has only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Taggart hired a new offensive coordinator this season, but even that has failed. Florida State averages 27.2 points and 393.2 yards of total offense, which is in the bottom half nationally.
Many of Florida State’s biggest problems came full circle against Miami. They committed nine penalties and allowed nine sacks, giving them 71 during Taggart’s time. The Seminoles ranked last in the country in penalties last year with 110 total and currently have 80 this year.
If the Seminoles do not rally to qualify for a bowl game it will mark the first time since 1975-76 they have gone consecutive seasons out of the postseason.
The university has reported dwindling interest in the program and a drop in season-ticket sales since Taggart arrived. And that is not something it could tolerate.
FSU’s average attendance this season is 54,213, which would be its lowest average since 1987 with one home game remaining against Alabama State. Saturday’s crowd (63,995) was the lowest for a game against Miami since 1991.
“I spoke to Coach Taggart this afternoon to let him know of our decision,” said FSU athletic director David Coburn. “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.”