Opinion: Willie Taggart’s catchphrase is ‘Do Something,’ and FSU did by firing him

George Schroeder


Published 6: 05 AM EST Nov 4, 2019

Willie Taggart’s familiar catchphrase is “Do Something” – and that Florida State did, firing Taggart after only 21 games, is surprising only in the timing.

The Seminoles were 9-12 in Taggart’s second season. Average attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium (capacity: 79,560) had dropped to 54,213, the lowest in more than 30 years. A 27-10 home loss Saturday to rival Miami – another faded powerhouse in the midst of its own very real struggles – did not inspire confidence in a return to national prominence. At best, the program was sliding sideways.

Florida State had to do something.

By moving now, rather than a few weeks later, the Seminoles get a jump on the coaching search before the carousel cranks up in earnest – several other big-name schools could make changes, too – and they have at least a shot to salvage recruiting ahead of the December signing period. But regardless of when the decision came, it was increasingly clear it had to happen.

Florida State spent years as the ACC’s lone national power, only to watch Clemson rise to preeminence as the Seminoles fell from it. For a program with three national championships since 1993 – including the BCS title just six years ago – the decline has been stunningly swift.

Consider: After winning 10 games as recently as 2016, Florida State has won 16 in the last three seasons. The Seminoles had to reschedule a game late in the 2017 season, Jimbo Fisher’s last as coach, just to get a sixth win and qualify for a bowl. Last season, Taggart’s first, was also the program’s first losing season since 1976, ending a 36-year bowl streak. Although it’s still possible for the Seminoles (4-5) to go bowling this season, it’s an astonishingly bad run.

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In retrospect, while hiring Taggart in December 2017 was a mistake, he might never have had much of a shot. In one season at Oregon, Taggart’s Ducks were 7-5 – which is to say, they made marginal improvement. And though he ruffled their feathers when he left, it was hard for anyone but Oregon fans to really grumble at the move to his dream job in his home state. Or to quibble with Florida State over the hire, either. Taggart would recruit very well to Tallahassee, the theory went, and the Seminoles would be very good again very soon. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Instead, at least by Florida State’s lofty standards, the recruiting was just OK. By almost any definition, the product on the field was substandard. And while it’s likely we all underestimated the roster deficiencies and other issues left behind when Fisher grabbed that 10-year, $75 million contract at Texas A&M, it quickly became clear that Taggart was not going to fix them. He didn’t demonstrate much savvy in addressing the program’s problems, notably along the offensive line and at quarterback. On the field, his teams were routinely sloppy and undisciplined, right to the end.

In a statement posted Sunday to his Twitter account, Taggart said, “building a program and a culture takes time,” and he’s right. (Of course, when he was hired, Taggart declined to call it a rebuild. Instead, he said: “This is more of a realignment, if anything.”) But while two seasons is typically not enough time to complete a rebuilding project, it was more than long enough to recognize that the project in Tallahassee was not going to succeed with Taggart in charge. Maybe the preexisting problems were too big for Taggart; at least as likely, the job was.

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Taggart’s buyout is worth just over $18 million. Add the assistant coaches, and the total payout will be around $22 million. Hiring the next coaching staff probably pushes the total outlay to $30 million. But after doing a cost-benefit analysis, the Seminoles couldn’t afford not to make a change.

They probably couldn’t afford to wait, either – despite the poor optics of firing a guy before he’d finished his second season. Even after the loss to Miami, the Seminoles are 4-5. They have at least a shot, with games remaining against Boston College, Alabama State and rival Florida, to reach bowl eligibility. And that possibility might have played into the decision to fire Taggart now.

The undisciplined, dispirited performance in the blowout loss to Miami prompted onlookers like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit to chirp in an Instagram post: “They are done, that program is gone.” But what if they had bounced back to win twice and reach a minor bowl? And then what if they’d won it?

With signs of tangible progress, it might have been more difficult to make a change. And yet the program’s significant structural issues would still have remained. Apathy in the fan base would likely have continued to increase. The overall trajectory would have remained sideways.

So now, after going more than 40 years between coaching searches (Bobby Bowden was hired in 1976, and Fisher was promoted from coach-in-waiting in 2009), Florida State is searching for the second time in 23 months. And while Taggart’s failed tenure should remind us – again – that no coaching hire is a sure thing, the job is one of the best in college football.

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It’s probably a rebuild rather than a realignment, but with competent leadership, Florida State should return to prominence. While Taggart’s in-season termination was surprising, it was clearly time to do something.

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