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Another reason why Florida State’s Willie Taggart isn’t on the hot seat: Money

It’s about to start storming financially, FSU athletic director David Coburn told boosters in February.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Florida State Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart yells during the fourth quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Miami, Fla. Miami Hurricanes beat the Florida State Seminoles 28 to 27.
Published Jul. 1

As the Seminole Boosters’ board of directors started its off-schedule meeting in February, chair Doug Russell made sure everyone listening understood the importance of what they were about to hear.

The “information being presented was very sensitive and needs to remain within the room,” Russell said, according to meeting minutes obtained last week by the Tampa Bay Times.

That information was part of the background conversations that led to the recent formation of the Florida State University Athletics Association. But it’s hard not to connect what was shared in that meeting to the dilemma overshadowing FSU football.

READ MORE: FSU forms direct support organization to align athletic department with Seminole Boosters

No, coach Willie Taggart’s job isn’t in jeopardy heading into Year 2.

It can’t be. The money isn’t there.

FSU’s financial shortfalls haven’t been a secret. Athletic director David Coburn has been upfront about the Seminoles’ $3 million-plus deficit in the 2018 fiscal year. The athletic department needed a $6 million transfer from the boosters in May to balance this year’s budget.

Fixing those problems through greater collaboration between the boosters and athletic department was at the heart of why both sides agreed to form the FSUAA, a direct-support organization established by FSU’s board of trustees last month. Money, in fact, was the first reason Russell cited in a May email to the board of directors, before they voted on the move.

“As we all know, the FSU Athletics program has been struggling financially,” Russell wrote.

As the Times reviewed 302 pages of documents — obtained under open-records laws — about the FSUAA’s formation, those struggles looked even worse than expected.

MORE FSU FOOTBALL: Willie Taggart on the state of FSU football: ‘It’s going well. We’re undefeated’

Coburn described a bleak financial picture at the Seminole Boosters meeting in February. He explained how his department trimmed every sport’s discretionary budget, froze its hiring and reduced travel. When coaches recruit foreign players, they cut costs by sharing trips with other schools.

And given an unattractive home football schedule that includes Miami but no other marquee team, the situation probably isn’t going to get much better immediately.

“Coburn noted we would get out of this but we have to make it through next year...” the meeting’s minutes read. “Coburn said the Boosters have done a great job of saving for a rainy day and from his perspective it is about to start pouring.”

The boosters, apparently, agreed.

“Regarding the budget, we prepared you for it but it’s difficult to actually see the numbers,” Russell and Seminole Boosters president and CEO Andy Miller wrote four months later. “In order to balance this year and next, it will be necessary to sell assets.”

Sell assets. Difficult to actually see the numbers. About to start pouring. Make it through next year.

Does that sound like a program that could afford a $17 million buyout of Taggart after two seasons, even if it wanted to?

And there’s no indication that FSU’s power brokers want Taggart on the hot seat, even after the Seminoles’ bowl streak ended with last year’s 5-7 failure.

The wreckage Taggart inherited from Jimbo Fisher looks worse now than it did when Fisher bolted for Texas A&M. Barring an on-field (think: 1-11) disaster or off-field scandal, Taggart deserves more than two years to try to turn around FSU the same way he did USF and Western Kentucky.

RELATED: Why Jimbo Fisher deserves blame for FSU football’s mess

That doesn’t excuse last year’s record, nor does it give him five more years to repair the program. By then, FSU’s finances might be much better, and his buyout will be lower.

The upcoming ACC Network could give FSU $7-8 million once it’s fully operational, Coburn told boosters. Attendance (and income) should rise with better schedules, like the future Georgia series. The new athletic association is supposed to reduce duplicated costs and potentially boost revenue.

“I have every confidence in David Coburn to cut expenses where he can and negotiate new revenues,” Russell and Miller wrote, “but it will take time and that’s why it will be necessary for Seminole Boosters to provide the additional support.”

Eventually, that support should cause the rainy day to end. But unless the sun starts shining immediately, Taggart’s future seems safe through at least 2020.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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