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Willie Taggart fired after 3 seasons at Florida Atlantic

Owls haven't won more than 5 games in any given season under Taggart
FAU Owls head coach Willie Taggart in December 2020
Posted at 8:50 PM, Nov 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-27 07:37:53-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Willie Taggart is out at Florida Atlantic.

FAU athletic director Brian White announced Saturday that Taggart has been fired, only hours after the Owls capped a third consecutive five-win season with a 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky at home.

"This evening, we made a change in leadership with the Florida Atlantic University football program," White said in a statement. "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."

Taggart was 15-18 in his three seasons at FAU.

The Owls were 5-4 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and went 5-7 without a bowl game in each of the last two seasons.

FAU is preparing to join the American Athletic Conference next season.

White said the school will immediately begin a national search to identify the next head coach.

Taggart was hired after Lane Kiffin left FAU for Mississippi in 2019. Kiffin led the Owls to a 26-13 record with a pair of Conference USA championships in his three seasons in Boca Raton.

Willie Taggart and FAU Owls prepare to take the field for the first time, Oct. 3, 2020
Florida Atlantic head coach Willie Taggart and his players prepare to take the field for the first game of the season, Oct. 3, 2020, at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.

The hope was that Taggart could build upon the success the Owls found under Kiffin. It didn't happen.

Winning has eluded Taggart for much of his career. He had a 56-62 record at his four previous schools – his alma mater, Western Kentucky, South Florida, Oregon and Florida State.

Taggart was 16-20 at Western Kentucky, 24-25 at USF and 7-5 in his lone season at Oregon. He was fired after just 21 games at Florida State, where he was 9-12 in succeeding Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State Seminoles head coach Willie Taggart speaks to QB James Blackman on sideline vs. Miami Hurricanes in 2018
Florida State head coach Willie Taggart talks to quarterback James Blackman on the sideline during a game against rival Miami, Oct. 6, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Hurricanes overcame a 20-point deficit in the second half to win 28-27.

"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 Saturday after FAU's loss. "I can't thank those guys enough."

The lone bowl for the Owls under Taggart came in his first season in 2020, when the NCAA waived the minimum wins requirement for teams to play in a bowl game. FAU lost to Memphis 25-10 in the Montgomery Bowl.

FAU started 5-1 in Taggart's first season, but the Owls have gone 10-17 since.

The Owls were 5-3 last season before dropping four consecutive games to finish with a losing record and miss out on a bowl berth. They started 2-1 this season and were 5-5 earlier this month, needing to win just one of their final two games to become bowl eligible.

Taggart, who has yet to coach a team to a bowl victory, had two years and $1.5 million remaining in base salary on his FAU contract. He's also still owed about $4 million by Florida State, which has been paying him 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 November 2019. He is scheduled to continue receiving payments from the Seminoles through January 2024.

In his 13 seasons as a head coach, Taggart is now 71-80.