TALLAHASSEE — Florida State athletic director David Coburn did not want to fire Willie Taggart.
That was clear in how the Seminoles handled the situation leading up to Taggart’s dismissal Sunday, and it was even clearer with the somber tone Coburn used less than 24 hours later.
“It was a rough weekend…” Coburn said as he opened his news conference Monday. “I had to fire a friend yesterday.”
Key words: Had to.
Although Taggart didn’t even get two full seasons to try to rebuild his dream job into a national power, Coburn said the Seminoles couldn’t afford to wait to make a move. Even if Taggart had beaten Boston College and Alabama State before losing at Florida at the end of the month, it wouldn’t have mattered.
“Frankly 6-6 isn’t good enough,” Coburn said.
Especially considering what preceded it. The improvement Coburn saw in the first month of the season began to disappear with last month’s 45-14 disappointment at Clemson.
“I just felt, and the president (John Thrasher) felt, that since then, we just have not looked very good,” Coburn said. “I thought, frankly, that the Miami game was eerily similar to the Virginia Tech game.”
That last line is damning but correct. Taggart’s team showed the same lack of discipline, blocking and preparation in Game 1 (a three-score home loss to mediocre Virginia Tech) as it did in Game 21 (a three-score home loss to mediocre Miami).
The lack of demonstrable progress through nine wins and 12 losses was why FSU felt it had to get rid of the Palmetto native and former USF coach.
Coburn said the terms of Taggart’s $18 million buyout are still being negotiated and will be in discussions “for a while.” Regardless, he felt the move (aided by donations from deep-pocketed boosters) was fiscally prudent. Season ticket sales and booster support were eroding alongside the on-field product, making 2020 look even worse for a cash-strapped athletic department.
“When you do the numbers, it just made more sense to go ahead and do this,” Coburn said.
And it made sense to do it now to give FSU and its outside search firm a head start on finding Taggart’s replacement. Coburn’s goal is to name a new coach by the end of the season, if not earlier.
“Our opinion was if we could get in position to be ready to hit the ground running, it would be a significant advantage,” Coburn said.
The new coach will need all the help he can get. The early signing period has condensed an already tight recruiting process, and the inevitable defections have begun. FSU has lost three commitments since the Miami debacle, including a pair of four-star prospects (running back Jaylan Knighton and cornerback Isaiah Dunson) Monday.
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Coburn said there’s only one thing he, FSU’s administrators and boosters are seeking in their next coach.
“We’re looking for somebody that can win a national championship,” Coburn said.
And 21 games in, it was clear that somebody was never going to be Taggart.
• FSU is still deciding what to do with its open assistant coaching position after elevating defensive line coach Odell Haggins to interim coach (again).
• The Seminoles remain undecided about whether James Blackman or Alex Hornibrook will start at quarterback Saturday at Boston College.
• Coburn said the fact that he, Thrasher and Seminole Boosters president Andy Miller are all going to be retiring in the next few years was not a factor in Taggart’s dismissal.