Picture Credit: FSU Athletics
In this case it isn’t cover four packages – it’s the four corners of the document.
Reports broke this week that Willie Taggart did not actually have a contract with Florida State University, but only the equivalent of a letter of intent. A new report broke afterwards that Taggart had signed a contract, but Florida State had not signed it.
Should the buyout be paid? As a practicing lawyer, I absolutely and unequivocally say yes – here’s why.
Letter of the Law
Courts will look for a “meeting of the minds” – Was there an agreement? Was there an offer and acceptance? This is a little different from the letter of intent in recruiting – it’s not the last word, but the grant-in-aid is. What did we pay Coach Taggart last year? Does it match what we were told?
Looking at the four corners of the original letter, we see an offer and acceptance. The outside evidence – what we all knew to be the case – proves that as well. This simply means Taggart could only be fired for cause, which, unlike other coaching contracts, only includes “serious violation(s) of NCAA, ACC or rules and regulations or serious personal misconduct.” Taggart committed none of those violations, and the fact that the letter spells out the fireable causes means he is a “for cause” employee, not “at will”.
The new article by 247Sports indicates that Coach Taggart did sign a contract but that Florida State did not. Although contracts not signed by both parties can create legal issues, this clearly shows an offer and acceptance.
We’ve seen comparison to the contract of Billy Gillespie at Kentucky, but that’s not a perfect analog. Contract law varies by state, so any comparison to Gillespie is moot. With the exception of certain types of transactions, contracts can be oral in the State of Florida. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that this is an enforceable contract and Florida State needs to pay the buyout.
Court of Public Opinion
In a different light, if Florida State fights this, it will make a bad situation look even worse. To say there was no agreement now is pettiness on an entirely different level that’s not legally enforceable. Common sense tells us that Coach Taggart came here on an agreement – or he would have never walked out on the field.
Florida State has faced enough backlash for firing a coach after 21 games. To now attempt to not pay the full buyout would not reflect well on a university whose motto is literally “Strength, Skill, Character.” We’ve had enough bad press. FSU must do the right thing – as Teddy KGB said in “Rounders” – “Pay him. Pay that man his money.”