Taggart returns to Sunshine State to lead Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Willie Taggart grew up a Florida State fan and dreamed of playing for the Seminoles.
He never donned the garnet and gold as a player, but has managed to one-up that goal.
Taggart was introduced as the 11th head coach in Florida State history on Wednesday as he returns to the Sunshine State after one season at Oregon. The 41-year old Bradenton native coached at South Florida from 2013-16 before taking the Ducks job.
The news conference capped a hectic two weeks at Florida State that included Jimbo Fisher resigning last Friday to accept the opening at Texas A&M .
"Guess I wasn't good enough to get a scholarship to play here," quipped Taggart, who played and later coached at Western Kentucky. "No matter where I went, I rooted for the Seminoles. Until I went to South Florida. That was the first time I had to root against the Seminoles.
"People say blood is thicker than water. Not in my household. We're playing the Seminoles and my brother, die-hard 'Nole fan, was talking about the game and said, 'I'm sorry, bro, I love you. But I can't go against my 'Noles.' That's just how it was."
It was an emotional news conference for Taggart, who fought back tears a couple times when he talked about returning home and cheering for Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward and Derrick Brooks when he was growing up.
Three days after Fisher resigned, Taggart met with Florida State President John Thrasher, athletic director Stan Wilcox and board of trustees member Ed Burr on Monday in Scottsdale, Arizona. After weighing the offer overnight, Taggart accepted on Tuesday and informed his players at Oregon .
He arrived in Tallahassee early Wednesday morning and met with the team before the news conference. Taggart said he appreciated Oregon athletic director Rod Mullens for giving him his first chance at a Power Five job, but that the chance to coach at the school he has followed since childhood was too good to pass up.
"I know I let him down and I'm sorry. The timing was probably not right but it is never right," Taggart said. "This one chance was perfect. To be closer to family and coach in a Power Five and an opportunity to win a national championship are personal goals."
Wilcox said there were a number of candidates for the job but that Taggart was his top choice.
"We had a number of candidates but knew his passion would rise to the top," he said.
Thrasher said he had a feeling early last week that Fisher was going to leave and that it was time to look at their options.
"The university is bigger than one person, we're resilient," he said. "To get a guy with the quality he has is a remarkable thing particularly in the time frame that we did it."
Taggart will earn $30 million over six years. Florida State will also pay the remaining $1,370,122.28 he still owes South Florida and $3 million owed to Oregon as part of buyouts of his previous contracts.
Taggart has a 47-50 career record, including 7-5 at Oregon this season. He has a reputation of rebuilding Western Kentucky, USF and Oregon, but he views coming to Florida State as more of a realignment effort.
Since winning 33 of 34 games between 2013 and '15, including a national championship, the Seminoles are 20-12, including 10-10 in the ACC.
Florida State was ranked third in the Top 25 preseason poll but lost quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener against Alabama and was beset by other injuries. They won their final three games to finish 6-6 and extend their bowl streak to 36 consecutive seasons. The Seminoles will face Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 27, where Odell Haggins will serve as the interim coach.
The Seminoles ran a pro-style offense under Fisher but Taggart's "Gulf Coast Offense" is spread based. Taggart's offenses have ranked in the top 20 in scoring the past two years.
He also wants an aggressive defense and described his style on both sides of the ball as "lethal simplicity."
"We're want to score fast and often, but be really simple when it comes to teaching our players, not confusing them on what they need to do and just allowing our guys to go out and play football," he said. "We want to be physical, we want to be fast. We want to be in attack-mode at all times and making plays."
Taggart's immediate goals will be completing his staff and trying to salvage a recruiting class — at least six players have de-committed over the past week. This is the first year football has an early-signing period, which will take place Dec. 20-22.