In 2014, the Manatee County school district forced Joe Kinnan into retirement. Kinnan then bailed out Willie Taggart, his former player, at USF, which made Florida State believe Taggart was a capable coach. The incident could cost FSU millions.
Florida State did not play in a bowl game last season for the first time in 36 years, which means the Seminoles — under the leadership of Willie Taggart, the Pride of Palmetto — had nine months to prepare for mighty Boise State in the 2019 season opener.
That's not all. The 'Noles led in the game by 18 points, were facing a quarterback four months removed from his high school prom, had the stifling Florida heat on their side against a team from Idaho, and an act of God (Hurricane Dorian) moved the game from Jacksonville to their home field in Tallahassee. All of that in their favor, and they still lost.
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The Palmetto native is a 52-58 career coach who has never won a conference championship or a bowl game and is somehow paid millions of dollars. Last year — his first at FSU — he guided the 'Noles to a 5-7 record, their first losing season in more than 40 years.
OK, FSU fans, know who you can blame for this hiring? That's right. Former superintendent Rick Mills and the Manatee County school district. I wrote the same thing three years ago, but it's even more serious now as the action they took in 2014 by firing Hall of Fame high school coach Joe Kinnan has had a domino effect that may cost Florida State University $17 million before it's all over.
Here's the logic: In 2013 Taggart was coaching USF and running an offense that was ranked 122nd in the country. The Bulls finished the season 2-10. Taggart was close to being fired the next season before he did the smartest thing possible. He brought in Kinnan — his old high school coach at Manatee High and one of the best football minds on any level — to install a new offense and save his job. Kinnan, thanks to being forced into retirement by the Manatee school district in 2014, just so happened to be available.
In 2015, Kinnan turned the offense into the second best in the nation, and USF finished the season with a school-record 11 wins. Then Oregon lured Taggart away for $16 million, two cars and a country club membership. Taggart — who did not bring Kinnan to Oregon — coached the Ducks to an underwhelming 7-5 season and then packed up the tent for more money in Tallahassee.
To wit: In the two seasons Kinnan was with Taggart at USF, the Bulls were 18-7. Those 18 wins represent 35 percent of Taggart's career total of 52. Taggart's record at Oregon and FSU over the last two seasons — without Kinnan — was 12-12.
So where do Mills and the Manatee County school district fit into all of this, you may ask?
Well, Kinnan was one of the best high school football coaches in state history, maybe the best. In 29 years at Manatee High he won 290 games and five state titles. He was also the school's athletic director, and in 2014 Mills suspended him for 10 days because of some transgressions in the baseball program.
Essentially, Kinnan's character was called into question, and he was personally crushed, taking a medical leave from coaching football that ultimately led to his retirement. Kinnan filed a lawsuit against Mills that is still pending.
It's a simple chain of events. Had Mills not suspended Kinnan, it's likely he would still be coaching at Manatee High. He would not have been available to bail out Taggart at USF. It's highly unlikely Taggart would have later been courted by big-time colleges.
Taggart's offense at USF — largely Kinnan's creation — is one big reason Oregon lured him away. FSU was next, giving Taggart a six-year contract worth $30 million, easily making the Pride of Palmetto the highest-paid state employee in Florida. He led them to the worst season at FSU in over 40 years and then kicked the 2019 season off by blowing an 18-point lead at home against Boise State.
Now, if FSU ever fires Taggart, he is set to receive 85 percent of the compensation he is owed.
In other words, if Taggart is fired after this season, FSU will owe him $17 million, money that can be traced all the way back to the Manatee County school district.
Contact columnist Chris Anderson at email@example.com.