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Florida State football coach search updates: Taggart hired

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NCAA Football: Nebraska at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s over. Florida State has hired Willie Taggart from Oregon. You can read all about the hire here. Here is a piece on which recruits Taggart could immediately target to jumpstart FSU’s recruiting class. Here is a reaction piece from Oregon. And here is a bio of Taggart to better know the coach.

Below, you’ll find our in-depth reporting on FSU’s coaching search over the last 72 hours. Thank you for trusting Tomahawk Nation for your FSU news.

In this space, I’ll provide updates and insight into the coaching search, just as we did with the Jimbo Fisher tracker. The latest update will appear at the bottom of the article. Because comments are closed on this article, please visit our fan discussion page to discuss the updates.


9:45 a.m. — The obvious choice, Willie Taggart

The Florida State Seminoles are now in the market for a new head coach after Jimbo Fisher resigned to take the Texas A&M job. Given how sour the situation had turned in Tallahassee, with much of the situation being Fisher’s fault, this was the best for both parties.

-Interest: Unsurprisingly, FSU has received a ton of interest in the job. It’s the best job to come open this offseason.

-Here’s the hot board that we’ll update if any new candidates emerge, though I do not expect it to.

-My sources say the main focus continues to be Oregon’s Willie Taggart. I believe if FSU offers Taggart a competitive number, and it doesn’t create a long, drawn-out process that would make it untenable for him to return to Oregon if things went south, that he would take the job. Although FSU hasn’t had a true coaching search in more than 40 years, I don’t expect this to be the disorganized mess that’s currently unfolding in Knoxville, TN.

-Timing: I expect this to happen quickly. On the conference call yesterday, the term “expedited” was used to refer to the process. What does that mean? It’s hard to be sure, but the ideal time would be Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Doing it Saturday would upstage Odell Haggins, a life-long Seminole who’s serving as interim coach. If a deal does get struck Saturday, I’d still wait to announce it until Sunday. Let Haggins have his moment.

-Sexton problem? Some have suggested that due to how things went down with Jimmy Sexton client Jimbo Fisher, FSU wouldn’t want to deal with another Sexton client, such as Willie Taggart. While it’s understandable that FSU might be weary of dealing with the agent who worked them over year after year as Fisher flirted with various jobs, it’s not practical to refuse to deal with Sexton because he has so many prominent clients. At the same time, FSU has leverage in this search that it didn’t when negotiating for Fisher, because multiple strong candidates want the job. By the way, nobody seems to be able to confirm to me that Sexton ever left Tallahassee.

-More Sexton: We’ve received numerous questions about Taggart/Sexton asking for some astronomical number and turning FSU off, but nobody we trust has confirmed that to this point, so I have my doubts. Remember, though, this is negotiation. Sexton’s job is to get the best possible deal for his client, and any good agent is going to start off asking for the moon.

-Search firm? Some suggested our reporting on the use of a search firm was incorrect, but I stand by it. A strong source maintains that FSU has enlisted the help of a search firm. Search firms help facilitate clandestine meetings between people. They bring candidates together.

8:45 p.m. — Still Taggart, is Franklin leverage?

Saturday was a bit cathartic for Florida State fans. Coaches cried, players celebrated, and while the season was an unquestioned disaster, recovering from 2-5 to go 6-6 is better than missing a bowl.

At the same time, having a game means less is happening on the coaching search front. AD Stan Wilcox can’t exactly be on the phone with Jim Harbaugh vetting Willie Taggart if he’s handling his game-day duties, nor should he be expected to. This morning I expressed skepticism that FSU would announce its new coach on Saturday, and I stand by that. The next 24-72 hours is a different story.

That said, I spoke to some sources today, a few of whom attended the game. Please note that the leaks coming out of Tallahassee are far slighter than what were rushing out during the Jimbo Fisher saga. I think that’s intentional. And while during the Fisher saga there may have been an attempt to control the message about the battle, there may be some attempts at misdirection.

-First, let’s note that to this point, there’s not even a hint of “Tennessee” in this search, meaning it seems to be going well, as opposed to the embarrassment in Knoxville. There’s no evidence of disorganization or discord to this point. That’s undoubtedly helped by just how desirable the job is (one source said 20+ head coaches have reached out), but there also seems to be a unified front between President John Thrasher, AD Stan Wilcox, and Trustee chair Ed Burr.

I’m told Florida State knows it has good leverage relative to the market. But the school’s also currently image-conscious, given how some media reports presented FSU as under-resourced, or with poor facilities, neither of which are true. FSU is not looking to go cheap on its head coach. It will likely end up paying market rate, but it does not need to overpay as some schools do.

-Let’s start with Willie Taggart. Everything I wrote above on Taggart still applies, so I won’t re-hash it here. I can also confirm that Willie Taggart was not on campus, despite an Instagram report. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence, but this is the age of social media. If I had to wager right now, I’d still take Willie Taggart against the field.

Oregon suffered a de-commit from a 4* prospect Saturday, but I’m not sure it’s quite as big a deal as some are making it out out to be.

-However, the field might be shifting. I heard plenty about Penn State’s James Franklin today, but very little about Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech, about whom there had previously been much buzz. Franklin is 45, with seven years head coaching experience. Like Taggart, he’s a minority candidate, and an elite recruiter. Franklin lacks the Florida connections of Taggart, but like Taggart, his buyout is not prohibitive.

Is Franklin seriously interested, or is there just some level of moderate interest/flattery being exploited to create leverage with Taggart? I can’t say for sure. Having a candidate repped by someone other than Jimmy Sexton could help lower the deal to Taggart from an FSU negotiating standpoint.

I wouldn’t consider Franklin a surprise candidate, since he was in our original 10 candidates on the hot board. If there’s some sort of mystery candidate, I’ve yet to hear of it.

-Two other names I heard today that I don’t buy: Mark Richt of Miami (FL), and Colorado State’s Mike Bobo. Those are both way out of left-field, but at least I got a good chuckle out of them.

-FSU is seriously vetting these candidates. “They might be calling every coach who ever coached with these guys,” a source said. In the case of Taggart, that’d mean calling people he coached with at Stanford, Western Kentucky, USF, etc... I wouldn’t be surprised if FSU checks in with prominent Tampa alum Derrick Brooks.

10:30 p.m. — Nothing to see here

I received a lot of questions about this tweet from Willie Taggart.

This tweet hasn’t changed my opinion of the situation at all. Oregon lost a commitment today, and Taggart has to keep recruiting for Oregon as hard as he possibly can in case he remains in Eugene, or at least until he has a new employer. In addition, this could help with leverage in a potential negotiation with Florida State. If I was Jimmy Sexton, that’s exactly the tweet I’d have Taggart send.

This tweet, however, caught my eye.

I had long heard FSU was Taggart’s dream job, but I had not heard of Taggart telling his team that. If Wrighster’s reporting is accurate, that’s amazingly forthright from Taggart.


Noon — Willie Taggart, leverage, and the waiting game

I was asked why Florida State seemingly isn’t making more progress with Willie Taggart. I’ll try to answer that below.

  1. It’s only been 48 hours since Jimbo Fisher resigned. It’s not like this search has been dragging on for weeks. Remember, I thought this would get done Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday (see initial update above), and was quite skeptical anything would get done sooner.
  2. Taggart’s considered a home-run hire by people in the business. However, not all important people are in the business. Some see a guy with a 47-50 career record and don’t understand that he engineered massive turnarounds at Western Kentucky (started 2-14, finished 14-6) and South Florida (started 7-21, finished 17-6). And if the people who see Taggart as a 47-50 coach happen to be important people, they’ll probably want the search committee to make calls to more accomplished coaches, such as James Franklin, Bob Stoops, or Mark Richt, etc... Even if some of those candidates are not fits, or have no interest, at least you can report back that you tried and got a “no”. But what happens if in the process of that, a coach like Franklin doesn’t immediately say no? If that case, FSU acquires additional leverage, as I discussed last night, and it could perhaps draw out the process by an additional day.
  3. If you’re Jimmy Sexton, you’re in a tough spot. How do you negotiate a great deal with a place that is a client’s dream job, especially if the school knows that? And every day Taggart doesn’t sign the extension at Oregon, makes it harder to go back and recruit at Taggart’s current level in Eugene.

4 p.m. — Oregon commits getting nervous

This is a tweet sent by Isaiah Bolden, a former FSU commit out of Tampa who is currently committed to Oregon.

As this situation drags on, with Taggart not signing the extension offered by the Ducks, pressure will mount. Oregon already lost a four-star commitment Saturday. Taggart’s putting together by far the most talented class in Oregon history.

He’s scheduled to be recruiting in Florida this week, so it’s tough to imagine this being stretched too far into the week. Visiting prospects in-home without a firm answer is not a tenable situation.

At least one Oregon commit is already lining up other official visits as a backup plan.

10:40 p.m. — Checking on Charlie Strong, not finding much

Not sure why, but there’s been an influx of e-mails and Twitter questions about Charlie Strong, the USF coach. I checked around and cannot find anything concrete to support the idea that he’s gaining momentum.

In our initial hot board, we listed Strong under the category of “Doesn’t make sense.”

The USF coach isn’t likely to get another chance at running a destination program after his failures at Texas. He turns 58 in August.

I see no reason to change that designation.

Additionally, several powerful boosters I know would be strongly against the move after the coach failed at Texas.

I’ve also been asked if I’d still take Willie Taggart over the field, and the answer remains the same: yes. This doesn’t mean he’s a lock, but Taggart’s the one name every source consistently mentions as a (or the) front-runner.


10:45 — Where’s Willie?

Good morning.

Booster support

Many readers have asked me about rumored booster opposition to Oregon coach Willie Taggart as a candidate.

I can tell you it was made clear to the boosters that the committee (Thrasher, Wilcox, Burr) would be running the search, and the boosters wouldn’t be allowed to meddle. I’m sure that didn’t sit well with some and over the weekend there was resistance to Taggart from a few prominent older boosters, due to his age and overall track record (47-50 career record). However, I’m told that after those boosters learned more about Taggart, specifically how he engineered two massive turnarounds in difficult spots, hired an excellent staff including OC Mario Cristobal (former FIU coach) and DC Jim Leavitt (former USF HC), and is in the process of signing a much better recruiting class than Oregon’s ever had, they’re now on board. One extremely long-time booster, after learning more about Taggart, made sure Thrasher knew he had his vote.

Where is Willie Taggart?

Additionally, this morning at 9:17 I received an e-mail tip that FSU would be meeting with Taggart today. I couldn’t confirm the e-mail, and wouldn’t normally mention such a thing, although I trust the source.

Additionally, I had my doubts about it since Justin Hopkins of Scoopduck, whom I have known for a long time via recruiting circles, says Taggart’s supposed to be meeting with QB commit Tyler Shough in Arizona Monday, before heading Texas to recruit. He’s scheduled to visit Florida mid-week to do likewise. Taggart was supposed to be on a flight around 11 p.m. PT last night. However, then this tweet happened.

Normally, the rule is to ignore reports by radio personalities because they have proven quite unreliable, but Kevin Wade of Scout says Burton is the person who broke the news of Taggart to Oregon. That gives him credibility. I now have a second Florida State source confirming the in-person meeting.

Given the early tip, and the Oregon source, I absolutely believe Willie Taggart will meet with Florida State today, and I continue to believe he’ll be FSU’s next coach.

1:15 — People guessing are premature

There are a lot of reports out there from people who aren’t connected to Florida State, Oregon, or Willie Taggart saying he has accepted the job with Florida State. I can tell you that as of 1:15, those reports aren’t true.

Want more proof? Willie Taggart just left the meeting we discussed in the morning update with QB Tyler Shough.

A lot of people will be looking to jump the gun on this. They will almost certainly get the name right, and will then try to claim they were first. But we’ll keep on bringing you the latest facts, and when Taggart does finally accept the job, we’ll have that up quickly, too. If you’ve been following this for the last three days, you know we fully expect Willie Taggart to be Florida State’s next head coach.

4:00 — “Oregon needs an answer”; FSU making preparations

I wish I could confirm a signed deal, but as of 4 ET, I cannot.

-John Canzano is an excellent reporter in Oregon; he’s one of the folks up there I really listen to. Here’s what he said at 3:49 ET:

“Oregon not thrilled about Willie Taggart being out recruiting on its dime while entertaining his next job.

Like we saw in Tallahassee with Jimbo Fisher, at a certain point, flirtation creates a situation where a coach cannot go back to his current school and maintain their trust.

-What did the QB recruit (Tyler Shough) Taggart visited today say? From Oregon 247 ($)

"It was great," Shough said. "They talked about Oregon a lot and how he is excited about us. I'm not sure what he is going to do as far as his career, though. He is going to see what (FSU) has to say, but I believe he will stay."

If the coach is telling recruits he is listening...

-Florida State is making preparations to have its new coach on campus Tuesday. I cannot go into more detail without burning my source on that at this time. I don’t believe FSU’s been in negotiations with any coach other than Willie Taggart, which leads me to believe we’ll see him in Tallahassee tomorrow, assuming all goes according to plan.


12:40 a.m.

I thought I would be recording The Nolecast right now, but instead I have been working the phones. And I came across this from Oregon's Assistant AD of Football Recruiting Operations, David Kelly. Kelly is one of Willie Taggart’s key recruiting cogs.

Additionally, coach Raymond Woodie started following former FSU decommitment Verdis Brown on twitter. Oregon has not offered Verdis Brown, and it does not seem to have recruited him at all. Woodie recruits Florida for the Ducks.

As far as I know, and I have checked with several good Oregon sources I have met over the years in my gig as National Recruiting Editor for SB Nation, Taggart has not met with his team.

Stay tuned, more potentially to come.

7:51 a.m.

Bud Elliott and Ingram Smith bring you the latest on the pursuit and negotiations with Willie Taggart with The Nolecast. If you’ve never listened to a podcast, give it a try. It’s a short 20 minutes, and can be heard on your computer or any fine podcast app. I spoke with my Oregon sources I’ve met over the years covering recruiting, and asked them if they think Taggart can or will return as coach, how he’d go about scheduling a team meeting during finals week, and what sort of offer Taggart would accept?

Additionally, SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey reports that a decision should come today. This is also what we are hearing from our sources.


Aaron Fentress is maybe the best media guy covering the Ducks. He just issued a tweet storm, which I am sharing here. Remember, these tweets from him are stuff that he does not have verified, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Okay here it goes. This is all from sources who know stuff but none of it is verified to the point where I would report it. Some of it might already be out there, I haven't been looking. This is a rumor thread, nothing more: 1. Taggart has not signed anything with FSU. He is very torn by this decision. It is not easy for him. 2. The feeling at UO, however, is that he is going to leave. 3. Taggart has told some parents about how torn up he is about this. 4. The plan, if he leaves, is to meet individually with each player, if possible. 5. No team meeting has been scheduled, at the time of this tweet, according to multiple people. If Taggart stays, he would likely announce it to the team. 6. Phil Knight and the rest of the power structure are not happy with how long this has taken and want an answer so they can move on. 7. I've confirmed that some players were crying at the team meeting on Friday when Taggart told them that FSU is his dream job and that he would listen if an offer was presented. 8. A couple of veteran players have said that they believe Taggart would be a fool not to take the FSU job if offered. (chew on that). 9. Those that cover FSU are confident, based on sources, that Taggart is a done deal and will become the Seminoles next head coach.

Most of this is not new, and the idea of “being torn” could be true, but is also a classic negotiation tactic. And I discussed in this morning’s Nolecast that no Oregon source with whom I spoke believes Taggart will turn down the FSU offer. Jimmy Sexton drives a hard bargain and wants to set good precedents for future clients. FSU does not want to get spanked by Sexton again.

Also discussed in the show: the first Oregon players to have finals today are at 3:15 ET, according to Oregon reporters. If Taggart wanted to tell them before their finals, it would make sense to have done so well before, like first thing in the morning, because to do it right before would be quite insensitive. I can confirm that as of 2:15, no meeting has been called. I don’t know what time the last final exam ends today.

I have a hard time believing that he will address each player individually. That could easily have been lost in translation with Fentress’ report. Logistically, if Taggart spent five minutes with all 100 players, meeting with them would take over eight hours with no breaks. Additionally, there is no way that after about the seventh or eighth player, that news wouldn’t leak.

What I think is more likely is that Taggart could meet with each player not individually, but personally, meaning in-person. That could be accomplished today with a meeting after dinner as a group. I am not reporting that it will happen, but it makes a lot more sense than individual meetings.

3:30 update

I’ll make this quick. Multiple Oregon websites are reporting that there is a 4:30 ET team meeting. I very much doubt a meeting would be called to tell a team a coach is staying.

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