Florida Atlantic fired Willie Taggart on Saturday, only hours after the end of a third consecutive five-win season and no bowl bid for the second time in that span.
Taggart was 15-18 in his three seasons with the Owls — 5-4 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, then 5-7 in each of the last two seasons. His finale was Saturday, a 32-31 overtime loss at home to his alma mater Western Kentucky.
Florida Atlantic is heading to the American Athletic Conference next season.
“This evening, we made a change in leadership with the Florida Atlantic University football program,” FAU athletic director Brian White said in a release distributed by the school. “It was a difficult decision, as we have tremendous respect for Willie Taggart. He has represented FAU with class and character. However, the lack of on-field success needed to be addressed as we look toward the future.”
White said the school would immediately begin a national search.
Taggart was brought in after Lane Kiffin left FAU for Ole Miss in 2019. Kiffin brilliantly revived his career at FAU, going 26-13 with a pair of Conference USA championships. Both FAU and Taggart hoped he had followed on the same path; he came to Boca Raton with a 56-62 record at four previous schools — Western Kentucky, South Florida, Oregon and Florida State.
Taggart had a winning record at just one of those stops; he was 7-5 in his lone season at Oregon. He was 16-20 at Western Kentucky, 24-25 at USF and 9-12 at Florida State.
“Me personally, I love these guys, especially the guys that have been here since I got here, to buy into what I was asking those guys to do, and to try to help me and our staff change the culture here,” Taggart said after FAU’s loss Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida. “I can’t thank those guys enough.”
Taggart has had more 10-loss seasons (two) than 10-win seasons (one), has never been the head coach of a bowl win and has now missed qualifying for a bowl in 10 of his 13 seasons. He lost in his one bowl trip with USF, lost his only bowl trip with FAU, and left for Florida State before Oregon’s trip to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2017.
The Owls started 5-1 in Taggart’s first season; they’ve gone 10-17 since, and lost in Taggart’s lone bowl appearance with FAU. The Owls went to the Montgomery Bowl in 2020, losing to Memphis.
Taggart had two years and $1.5 million remaining in base salary on his FAU contract. He’s also still owed roughly $4 million by Florida State, which has been paying Taggart nearly $300,000 a month as part of the settlement of what was a $30 million, six-year contract with the Seminoles before they fired him in in November 2019. Taggart is scheduled to continue receiving payments from the Seminoles through January 2024.
In 13 seasons as a collegiate head coach, Taggart is now 71-80.
— The Associated Press