Florida State owned up to the most expensive mistake in college football history Sunday.
In an announcement that was inevitable and stunning at the same time, the school announced the firing of Willie Taggart just 21 games into his error-laden tenure. With a projected buyout of more than $17 million, plus what it will take to buy out his staff, the price tag comes out to about a million dollars per game coached—and more than $2 million per game won.
Charlie Weis took a larger chunk of Notre Dame’s change when he was fired there a decade ago, but he’d already put in five years of work and had a couple of pretty good seasons. The Taggart Era was extremely short, extremely bad and extremely costly.
If you want a sign of the times in college football, this is it: Florida State wildly overpaid to hire Taggart after Texas A&M wildly overpaid to steal Jimbo Fisher out of Tallahassee, and now the Seminoles will wildly overpay to make Taggart go away less than two years later.
All the media-rights revenue pouring into the sport hasn’t bought a lot of administrative common sense.
A tepidly embraced hire after one mediocre season at Oregon, four years at South Florida and three at Western Kentucky, Taggart lost the FSU fan base immediately. His tenure started with an ugly home loss to Virginia Tech, a narrow escape over Samford and a beatdown at Syracuse. Three games in, the Seminoles faithful was already talking about wanting him out.
It never got significantly better.
Taggart followed a 5-7 debut season with a 4-5 record this year, bottoming out in an embarrassing home loss to a subpar Miami team Saturday. With an 0-2 record against the Hurricanes and an 0-1 record against Florida, the Florida State administration had seen enough.
Taggart’s FSU teams were sloppy and disorganized—they were the fifth-most penalized in the nation this year, after being the most-penalized in 2018. They were a soft road team, with a 1-7 record away from Doak Campbell Stadium. They failed physical football, ranking 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards and eighth in rushing yards allowed.
The consistent power that Bobby Bowden built and Fisher sustained fell into disarray, and a place like FSU isn’t going to sit still for that. Despite that, nobody saw an in-season ouster coming.
(This is, it should be noted, another very quick hook for a minority college football coach. Turner Gill got two seasons at Kansas, as did Jon Embree at Colorado. Tyrone Willingham was fired after just three seasons at Notre Dame, as was Joker Phillips at Kentucky and Charlie Strong at Texas and John Blake at Oklahoma. Randy Shannon got four seasons at Miami; Bobby Williams less than four full seasons at Michigan State. African-American coaches know the numbers, which is one reason many of them with promising futures prefer to point their careers toward the NFL.)
So what does Florida State do now?
We already know that Urban Meyer, the most intriguing unemployed coach in America, is not going to Tallahassee. Taggart wasn’t hit by a bus, but the point was clear when David Coburn was asked about Meyer last month.
Bob Stoops? The first thing he’s likely to say to any inquiry is that FSU should call his younger brother, former Seminoles defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is currently doing good work at Kentucky.
An industry source told SI Sunday that an FSU president and athletic director lacking experience in making big-name athletic hires may have their work cut out for them.
“They will have to make their intentions clear to attract a top guy,” the source said. “It feels like they can’t afford another miss.”
If FSU is intent on closing the chasm between it and ACC top dog Clemson, it can try to raid Dabo Swinney’s rock-solid staff. Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott would sprint to the school where his dad, Brad, once was an assistant coach. The more attractive targets might be defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who remains the most overqualified coordinator in the sport, and the other half of Clemson’s offensive coordinator tandem in Tony Elliott.
Beyond that, this could go any direction. But this much is a certainty: it’s going to cost another small fortune to hire the next guy, as Florida State continues to burn through money in its quest to regain relevance.