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Florida State football fires Willie Taggart

When you look at the lost attendance, lost recruits and losses on the field, it all adds up to an ouster in Taggart’s second year.
Florida State coach Willie Taggart watches his team play Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Wake Forest won 22-20. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) [NELL REDMOND  |  AP]
Florida State coach Willie Taggart watches his team play Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Wake Forest won 22-20. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) [NELL REDMOND | AP]
Published Nov. 3, 2019
Updated Nov. 3, 2019

For a Florida State athletic department in financial disarray, the only number surrounding coach Willie Taggart that mattered in the offseason was his buyout: roughly $17 million.

But a day after an embarrassing 27-10 home loss to Miami, the math changed for good. A handful of other figures trumped that astounding amount, causing the Seminoles to fire Taggart from his dream job Sunday afternoon. Defensive line coach Odell Haggins will serve as FSU’s interim coach for the second time in three seasons, beginning with Saturday’s trip to Boston College.

“I think very highly of Coach Taggart and wish him well,” Florida State president John Thrasher said in a statement, “but in the interest of the university we had no choice but to make a change.”

Related: RELATED: Who will replace Willie Taggart at FSU? Some names to watch

The most obvious reason Thrasher had no choice was this ugly statistic: 9-12, Taggart’s record at FSU.

Last year’s 5-7 flop was the Seminoles’ first losing season since 1976 and ended their NCAA-record 36-year bowl streak. Maybe Florida State could have moved past that failure if Taggart had rallied in Year 2. The Palmetto native didn’t. The 4-5 ’Noles are stuck in their worst two-year stretch since 1975-76.

Taggart isn’t the only one to blame, because Jimbo Fisher left a mess in Tallahassee. But Fisher, like Taggart, inherited a program that went 7-6 before his arrival. It took Fisher five and a half seasons to lose 12 games; Taggart did so in less than two while another second-year coach (Dan Mullen) has the rival Gators headed for another 10-win season.

Taggart’s overall record was bad enough, but the details make it even worse. Saturday’s debacle dropped him to 0-5 against rivals Miami, Florida and Clemson. Four were by at least 17 points, and the fifth featured FSU blowing a 20-point lead at Miam last year.

That collapse, it turns out, proved to be prophetic for 2019 and the next set of damning numbers. Florida State blew five fourth-quarter leads in its first seven games this season (although they recovered to win two of them). The ’Noles have been outscored 99-55 in the fourth quarter. Whatever the reason — coaching, talent, conditioning — it falls on Taggart.

So does the next number: 8.9. That’s how many penalties Florida State has committed per game — a stat that ranks No. 126 nationally.

Related: RELATED: ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit on FSU: ‘I hate the way they represent themselves’

FSU has been flagged six times for illegal formations, including twice on punts. Those head-scratching penalties echo the end of 2018, when Taggart had to burn a timeout in the final quarter of the final game because his offense didn’t have enough players on the field.

The blunders created a perception that Taggart’s program was undisciplined, with no shaping up in sight. What progress could there be after 10 penalties for 75 yards (including two illegal formations) against Miami, almost two years into his tenure?

Perhaps they could have been overlooked if Florida State fans had hope things would get better. They didn’t, because of the next unacceptable number: Zero. That’s how many top-10 recruiting classes Taggart signed.

The first one wasn’t his fault; he deserved credit for salvaging a No. 11 class from an awful situation. But his second finished 19th — FSU’s second-worst haul of the Rivals era. There were no excuses for that, especially considering his recruiting prowess made him a hit at USF and Florida State’s top candidate in 2017.

Related: RELATED: Why are college football coaches’ buyouts so big?

The ’Noles became the second Power Five program in the last decade to fail to sign a quarterback in back-to-back classes. Because Taggart didn’t sign an offensive skill player in 2019, injuries have left the Seminoles with five healthy receivers and two healthy running backs.

Taggart’s roster mismanagement and recruiting misses made it hard to argue that the program’s long-term health was improving. Add that to the current struggles, and you get the final, most damning number of them all: 54,213.

That’s the average attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium, and it’s on track to be FSU’s worst since 1987. The Seminoles’ five smallest home crowds since 1989 have all been under Taggart. Even Saturday’s season-high attendance (63,995) was the lowest for a Miami game at Doak since 1991. A conservative estimate prices that empty-seat apathy at $1 million in lost revenue per home game.

Those were the numbers Florida State’s powerbrokers had to weigh less than two full seasons into Taggart’s tenure. The rough record, blowout losses, blown leads, lack of discipline and dearth of difference-making recruits all created indifference at one of the most successful programs in college football.

And finally, Sunday, they added up to a figure greater than an astonishing $17 million buyout. The Seminoles, as Thrasher said, had no choice.

They had to do something.

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

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