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.
Taggart said in a statement Sunday that he was "disappointed" in Florida State's decision but believes the "future is bright" for the Seminoles.
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 of a buyout that 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; it finished 67th. This season, it was ranked 22nd at the start of the year; the team is currently 46th.
After the Seminoles went 5-7 last year, the heat started to build in Tallahassee, although Taggart had 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" and vowing to take the team back to being the Florida State of old.
But there were myriad roster issues, particularly along the offensive line and at quarterback. Both those problems became abundantly clear in a disastrous game to open the 2018 season, a 24-3 home loss to Virginia Tech that signaled it might take a while to anyone who thought Florida State would make an immediate turnaround.
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. But he felt good about the team he brought back, and said this past April, "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. ... You come here to win and win championships, and we're never going to go away from that."
At Florida State, that's where progress is measured, because the reality is championships are expected.
The same issues that hurt Florida State in 2018 have come back in a major way this year, with poor offensive line play, inconsistency at quarterback and an undisciplined team that still commits too many penalties.
Florida State has only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and has started both James Blackman and Alex Hornibrook this season to jump-start the offense. Taggart brought in Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator in the offseason hoping to fix many of the problems the Seminoles had last year, but they still rank in the bottom half of the country in scoring offense (27.2 points per game) and total offense (393.2). To add more urgency to the situation, Taggart failed to sign a quarterback in his two recruiting classes, after prized commitment Sam Howell flipped to North Carolina. Howell is having a freshman All-America type season with the Tar Heels, while Florida State continues to scramble for the best fit.
Against Miami on Saturday, Florida State had 10 penalties and gave up nine sacks. Florida State has allowed 71 sacks in its past 21 games, and is on pace to give up more sacks this year than last. As for the penalties, the Seminoles ranked last in the country last year with 110 total, and rank No. 126 this year with 80 through nine games. 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.
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.
"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."
After 21 games, it became clear that there was only so much this coaching staff could do to make the serious changes that Florida State feels are necessary to get the program headed in the right direction.