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Willie Taggart headed to FAU

Former Florida State head coach tapped to replace Lane Kiffin

Willie Taggart was fired after a 9-12 record  through 21 games at Florida State.
Willie Taggart was fired after a 9-12 record through 21 games at Florida State. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Willie Taggart is staying in Florida.

Taggart, who was fired by Florida State last month after just 21 games on the job, is taking over for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic.

FAU announced the hire Wednesday evening.

“I’m grateful to (athletic director) Brian White and President (John) Kelly for their belief in me to lead the football program at Florida Atlantic University,” Taggart said in a statement on FAU’s website. “I’m looking forward to long-term success here. I think our players and the university deserve that commitment. Family is extremely important to me. I couldn’t do what I do without their love and support and all of us are looking forward to being here in paradise for the foreseeable future.”

The Owls had been searching for a new coach since Kiffin left for Ole Miss. His hire was formally announced Saturday, shortly after FAU defeated UAB 49-6 in the Conference USA Championship game. It was FAU’s second conference title in three seasons under Kiffin.

Taggart has a 56-62 career record, including a 9-12 mark at Florida State, with stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon. But his time in Tallahassee seemed doomed almost from the start, leading the Seminoles to a 5-7 record in 2018 -- their first losing season since 1976.

Florida State fired Taggart a day after the Seminoles suffered another blowout loss to a rival. Their 27-10 loss to Miami dropped Taggart to 0-5 against rivals Clemson, Florida and Miami.

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart tries to keep his team from fighting with Miami players after the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles 27-10, Nov. 2, 2019, at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.
Florida State head coach Willie Taggart tries to keep his team from fighting with Miami players after the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles 27-10, Nov. 2, 2019, at Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Aside from his stay in Tallahassee, Taggart has a reputation for rebuilding struggling programs. He took Western Kentucky from a two-win season in 2010 to consecutive winning seasons at his alma mater. He turned around USF, leading the Bulls from a 2-10 record in 2013 to four wins in 2014, eight wins in 2015 and 10 wins in 2016.

In his lone season at Oregon in 2017, the Ducks went 7-5 a year after going 4-8.

Taggart clearly wanted to remain in his home state, having shown interest in the South Florida job that ultimately went to Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. He got his wish at FAU.

“I couldn’t be more excited to have coach Taggart on board to lead our football program,” White said in a statement. “Coach Taggart is a proven program builder who will develop strong relationships with our student-athletes and develop them as future leaders. His deep relationships around the state of Florida and the nation will be vital in recruiting as well. The traits he brings to the table will allow us to continue building upon our recent success.”