TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State athletic director David Coburn said Monday that he made the decision to fire coach Willie Taggart after 21 games because they did not see an advantage to waiting until the end of the season.
Coburn described an emotional conversation with Taggart on Sunday when he delivered the news, adding he had to take into account not only a lack of progress on the field but financial considerations that made it untenable for Taggart to stay in the job.
Taggart went 9-12 at Florida State, and the Seminoles need wins in two of their final three games just to gain bowl eligibility. They are currently 4-5 with a road trip to Boston College on Saturday, then games against Alabama State and No. 10 Florida.
"Frankly, 6-6 isn't good enough," Coburn said.
Coburn said he and Taggart held "explicit conversations" about the expectations at Florida State and what needed to be done to improve his job security. Coburn pointed to the 27-10 loss to Miami this past Saturday as the final straw, comparing the performance to a season-opening 24-3 loss against Virginia Tech in 2018.
"There's a lot of ways to measure what was happening with the team," Coburn said. "I thought that at the beginning of the season we were making progress. Clemson was a disappointment and I just felt and the president felt since then we just have not looked very good."
Though Coburn was not ready to discuss the financial ramifications, he said the buyout paid to Taggart would be in the $18 million range but that discussions are ongoing and there is no timeline for a settlement. Asked how a cash-strapped athletic department could make the decision to pay out such a large number to move on from its head coach, Coburn discussed lagging season-ticket sales and booster contributions as being large factors.
"It was not an easy decision," Coburn said. "You have to look at season-ticket sales, renewals, new tickets moving forward. Obviously those are tied to booster contributions to the annual fund. You're looking at the implications for concessions, parking, you look at that vis-a-vis the cost of a buyout, cost of a new coaching staff, you have to make a decision."
Coburn said the university would hire a search firm to help find a new coach, and the Florida State boosters would also play a role in the decision. Former Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox did not use a firm when he hired Taggart in December 2017. Wilcox stepped down from his job to join the NCAA eight months after he hired Taggart, and after a lengthy athletic director search, Florida State opted to go with Coburn, who came over from university administration.
Besides financial considerations and the notion that any new coach coming in won't be given enough time to rebuild, what could complicate the coaching search is long-term stability at the top. Both Coburn and Florida State president John Thrasher are not expected to still be in their positions in the next two to three years. The newly created Florida State University Athletics Association, which now includes both the athletic department and Seminole Boosters, adds a wrinkle that hasn't been a part of any previous coaching search. Coburn said the new FSUAA wouldn't have a huge impact on the way the search is conducted, though he did say the Boosters would be involved.
When asked what he's looking for in his next head coach, Coburn said, "We're looking for somebody that can win national championships. I'm going to look at every option I can find. We're going to win. We're going to get back to the standard of Florida State University football."
Coburn would like to have someone in place by the end of the season, if not before, in the hopes of saving the recruiting class by the early signing date in December.
Going into last weekend, the Seminoles had the No. 13-ranked recruiting class, which was up from the 22nd-ranked class in 2019, but a few commitments have already jumped ship.
Jacksonville, Florida, three-star cornerback Derek Bermudez was the first to decommit on Sunday, announcing he will still stay in touch with the staff but he is reopening his recruitment. Georgia athlete Isaiah Dunson, a four-star recruit, decommitted on Monday and was followed by ESPN 300 running back Jaylan Knighton.
The decommitment from Knighton stings as he is the 88th-ranked recruit overall and was the second-highest-ranked commitment in the class for Florida State. The staff is left with 17 total commitments in the class, eight of which are ranked in the ESPN 300. Interim coach Odell Haggins was on the phone into the early hours of Monday morning trying to keep the Florida State class together.
But he also has to keep the current team together. Haggins has experience in this regard, having served as interim head coach when Jimbo Fisher left with one game left in the 2017 regular season. With bowl eligibility on the line, Florida State beat ULM 42-10 and then won its bowl game to save a 7-6 season.
The Seminoles appeared to be a transformed team under Haggins, and that is the hope now that he takes over with three games to play. Haggins, who played at Florida State and has spent 26 years at the school as an assistant, wouldn't discuss the myriad problems that have plagued Florida State on the field this season and opted instead to look ahead to Boston College.
But he did say the team had a good day of practice on Sunday.
"We're moving forward," Haggins said. "Thinking about Boston College, how we're going to plan for them and what are we going to do. That's what Willie Taggart would want. He wouldn't want you sulking and crying, he would want you to move forward."
Coburn said Taggart declined the opportunity to meet with the team on Sunday. Coburn and Haggins did instead, and he said players handled the news "like champions."
"We're going to fight," Haggins said. "We're unconquered. Exactly what I told them and that's what they need to hear. They're our kids, and they're going to fight to uphold Florida State University."
ESPN's Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.