With Jimbo Fisher officially leaving for Texas A&M this past Friday, the Florida State football program was forced to conduct a coaching search for the first time since 1976. That year, of course, is when the Seminoles hired Bobby Bowden, and the program has only seen one coaching change since then, in 2010 when Fisher took over for Bowden.
As a destination job, Florida State immediately became the most attractive open job in college football. On Tuesday, a mere 96 hours after Jimbo Fisher’s departure became official, the Seminoles ended its coaching search by landing its top target, Willie Taggart, sources have confirmed to Tomahawk Nation.
A Florida native, Taggart played quarterback for Bradenton Manatee High School and led the Hurricanes to a state title as a senior. Taggart then accepted a scholarship to Western Kentucky where he became a four-year starter for the Hilltoppers and finished as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.
After college, Taggart stayed at Western Kentucky under head coach Jack Harbaugh and worked as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2007, Taggart followed Harbaugh’s son, Jim (whom you may have heard of) to Stanford and served as the running backs coach.
In 2010, Western Kentucky hired Taggart as head coach and the former quarterback returned to his alma-matter. The Hilltoppers finished 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, but snapped a 26-game losing streak. From there, Western Kentucky finished 7-5 in ‘11 and 7-5 in ‘12, accepting an invitation to the Little Caesar’s Pizza bowl in 2012. It was the Hilltoppers’ first Division 1 bowl berth in the history of the program.
However, Taggart left Western Kentucky before the bowl game in 2012 to accept the head coaching position at South Florida. Under the direction of former coach Skip Holtz, the Bulls had spiraled out of control, finishing 3-9 prior to Taggart’s arrival.
Taggart’s tenure in Tampa did not start out great, as the Bulls finished a paltry 2-10 in 2013. However, his team continued to get better each year, culminating in a 10-2 season in 2016. With talented Quinton Flowers at quarterback, the Bulls had one of the best offenses in the country that year, even giving Florida State a test early in the season.
Willie Taggart Coaching Career
|2012||Western Kentucky||7-5||4-4||5th||Little Caesars Pizza|
|2015||South Florida||8-5||6-2||2nd||Miami Beach|
In 2017, Taggart left Tampa to take the job at Oregon, the first Power 5 head coaching job in his career. In his lone year at the helm, the Ducks improved from 4-8 to 7-5, securing bowl eligibility.
Bud Elliott wrote the following about him:
He took Western Kentucky from 2-10, to 7-5, and 7-5, winning 14 of his final 20 games there and upset Kentucky. He set up the roster for Bobby Petrino and for Jeff Brohm, both of whom also used it to jump to better jobs.
Under Skip Holtz, USF went from 8-5, to 5-7, to 3-9. The program was a disaster. Taggart came in and went 2-10, signed a great recruiting class, went 4-8, signed another, then went 8-5, and 10-2 (USF went 11-2, but Taggart didn’t coach the bowl). He was 17-4 in his final 21 games at USF. He set up Charlie Strong with probably the best G5 roster in America.
Now he is on pace to bring in the best recruiting class Oregon has ever had, and by a huge margin.
As Bud mentioned, Taggart has done a phenomenal job of changing the culture of schools that he’s coached at. Western Kentucky was nothing special when he arrived, but has since turned into a program that is consistently bowl eligible. Likewise, South Florida has turned into one of the top programs in the AAC, even with new head coach Charlie Strong running the show in Tampa now.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these turnarounds has been Taggart’s ability to play to the strengths of his roster. A disciple of Jim Harbaugh, Taggart ran smash-mouth, power football while with Harbaugh at Stanford. He was instrumental in the development of running back Toby Gerhart, who would finish as a runner-up for the Heisman.
But at South Florida, the talent on the roster, and available talent in Florida, dictated that Taggart move in a different direction with his offense. With Flowers at quarterback, Taggart suddenly had different strengths to play with. As Steven Godfrey of SB Nation wrote back in 2016, he embraced the raw athleticism in his Floridian roster.
“At first it was, well, let’s just run West Coast, but see how it looks in the ’gun,” Taggart said. “And then it got intriguing, because we started seeing all the options available that we didn’t have under center. And then we started running all the practice reps, Quinton in the ’gun, spread out, but with the shifts and motions. And it was like … wow.”
By becoming flexible in his approach, Taggart has been able to flip programs that otherwise would be struggling to reach a bowl game. The chart below shows the S&P+ rankings for each of his teams, including offensive and defensive standings.
S&P+ Rankings, 2010-17
|Year||Team||S&P+||S&P+ O||S&P+ D|
|Year||Team||S&P+||S&P+ O||S&P+ D|
As Florida State fans remember, South Florida’s 2016 offense was difficult to stop. Flowers was dynamic at quarterback, while running back Marlon Mack (now with the Indianapolis Colts) was elusive as well. That Bulls team scored 35 points on the ’Noles in Tampa.
Don’t let the 47-50 career record fool you. Taggart has a great trajectory. There’s a reason why Oregon is currently offering him a new contract through the 2022 season in an attempt to keep him in Eugene.
Taggart and his wife Taneshia have three children: Willie Jr., Jackson, and Morgan. Growing up in Florida, Taggart comes from a family of Florida State fans as well.
While I knew Taggart liked FSU growing up in Palmetto, I didn't learn until today (from a couple of people) that the rest of his family was/is fanatical about the 'Noles. I mean, huge FSU fans.— Joey Knight (@TBTimes_Bulls) December 4, 2017
With Florida State landing their top head coaching target, Coach Taggart can return home and begin filling out his staff. He will also need to hit the recruiting trail for FSU immediately, as the first early signing period begins December 20, a mere fifteen days from now.