Willie Taggart found out Sunday the harsh reality of major college football in the 21st century. No longer will schools give coaches time to build programs, at least not those who inherit jobs where their predecessors routinely challenged for national titles. Taggart had a good reputation as a recruiter and bench coach prior to coming to Florida State, but he was following Jimbo Fisher, whose eight seasons were mostly marked by victories, and either winning titles or being in contention.
By comparison Taggart was only 9-12 in his less than two years at Florida State. Saturday they were embarrassed 27-10 by Miami, and this season stand at 4-5 overall, 3-4 in the ACC. Taggart had been more successful at South Florida for four seasons from 2013-16, and coached Oregon for one year before coming to Florida State last year. “I spoke to Coach Taggart this afternoon to let him know of our decision,” said FSU Director of Athletics David Coburn in a statement released by the university.”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.”
One could argue that while 9-12 is far from good, it’s a very short sample size. But the thing that killed Taggart more than the overall record was the ugly 0-5 slate compiled against in-state rivals Miami and Florida, as well as being totally outclassed by Clemson.
“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 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.” FSU will owe Taggart just over $18 million by firing him in November. The buyout drops to $17 million in January. He had more than four years remaining on his contract and will receive 85% of his remaining salary in compensation.
The Seminoles finished 5-7 in Taggart’s first year and missed a bowl game for the first time since 1981. They hadn’t finished with a losing record since Bobby Bowden’s first year in 1976.
The Taggart firing is sure to generate plenty of discussion over whether Black head coaches, particularly in college, are given the same time as white ones to build successful programs before being booted. But the difference here is Taggart as a Florida native and longtime coach in the state. He knew better than anyone he wasn’t going to get much of a honeymoon, if any, at FSU.
Bobby Bowden was a legend in his many years there, and Jimbo Fisher also won a national title. Anyone following those two was going to have a hard time if they weren’t immediate winners, and the evolution of Clemson into a national powerhouse with two titles in the last three years didn’t help anyone making the case Taggart deserved more time. Likewise the quick rise this season of Wake Forest, plus the inevitable comparisons with Florida and Miami, both of whom in recent years have fired their share of head coaches in quick fashion, also made what happened Sunday far from a surprise.
Certainly being able to get a hefty buyout takes a little of the sting out of being fired so quickly. But he had four years left on his contract. Given how hard it’s been for Black coaches to get second chances at big college jobs, the fact Willie Taggart was actually coaching at his third school meant he’d already beaten the odds to a degree. It will be quite intriguing to see if he can do it once more, and get another top head job, or if he’ll try coaching in a non-Power 5 conference for a while and rebuild his resume.
Whatever the case, his plight reaffirms the fact in today’s college coaching environment, especially at the biggest schools, there’s no such thing as patience or slowly building a program. You better win often and immediately.