TALLAHASSEE — The 10th head football coach in Florida State history, just the third in the last 42 years, sat munching Gummy bears last Thursday in his office — the office where Bobby Bowden once sat, where Jimbo Fisher sat.
Willie Taggart, the Meteor Man, from here to there in blinks of an eye, Western Kentucky to USF to Oregon and now his dream job in Tallahassee, was talking about the journey and the doubters who wonder even now if Taggart (career record: 47-50) is really the man to FSU back on top.
"I don't think I'd have this job if I cared about all those people who think those things," Taggart said. "… I'm not here if I listen to the whispers. That's pretty much my whole life, not letting people define who you are."
The man behind the black horn rims thought of his first game at USF, August 2013, just five years ago. Taggart was fresh from rebuilding Western Kentucky, and had his college career ahead of him. And then USF took the field Raymond James Stadium for Taggart's debut. The Bulls were beyond stunned in their season-opener by McNeese State, 53-21.
"I remember you asked that night, 'Do you think this job is too big for you?'" he said.
And here we are again, wondering if Taggart can cut it on one of college football's biggest stages.
Florida State isn't Western Kentucky. Nor is it USF, which Taggart demolished, then rebuilt into a threat behind quarterback Quinton Flowers before handing off to Charlie Strong. Florida State isn't Oregon, where Taggart spent one season, had the planet's best facilities ("It was like the Jetsons."), took the Ducks from 4-8 to 7-6 as his "Gulf Coast Offense" scored 77 points in one game and 69 in another.
"We left USF in a really good place, which USF should be," Taggart said. "And we left Oregon better than we found it."
But this is Florida State, home to three national champions. This is Florida State, all that talent, where you reload instead of rebuild. This is Taggart's task. Today. Right now.
The reason Northern Illinois coming to Tallahassee in three weeks is bigger than the chance to avenge an Orange Bowl loss or to play a marquee opponent: The Huskies needed the money. #FSU #NIU @MBakerTBTimes @TB_Times @NIU_Football @FSUFootball https://t.co/vACxVmpEzJ— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) August 31, 2018
"I don't look at it as pressure," Taggart said. "What's pressure? It's a job and there are expectations. I don't think any expectations will be bigger than mine. … I figured at some point I'd be head football coach at Florida State. I love this school. I'm ready for it all."
The cover of the FSU media guide features Taggart doing the chop and features and one of his favorite sayings, dating back to USF and even before that:
It's what he tells his players.
"You've worked to get here, now do something."
Taggart, who turned 42 this week, has never wasted time. He has his starting quarterback (Deondre Francois over ) and a meaty schedule, which includes a Labor Day night opener against Virginia Tech at Doak Campbell Stadium. McNeese alert.
Some think Taggart is overrated, a beneficiary of the coaching jet stream. Some think he can't get it done in Tallahassee. I guess success at this point is not putting your Christmas tree out for the trash before Christmas. Godspeed, Jimbo!
Florida State's bill for a trip to Bradenton's IMG Academy will cost the Seminoles more than $175,000, according to their contract signed earlier this month. #FSU #Seminoles @IMGAcademy @TB_Times @MBakerTBTimes https://t.co/m24mzQrLZf— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) August 30, 2018
I think Taggart can get this done. There is something about him. There has always been something about him, even when he was at USF. That hasn't changed with him as a Seminole, a dream of his all along while growing up in Palmetto, pretending to be Heisman winner Charlie Ward on the 1993 national champions.
"In the neighborhood, I had a little white T-shirt, and with a black Sharpie I drew the number 17 on it," Taggart said.
Ward recently visited FSU practice, as did Deion Sanders. Bobby Bowden has stopped by at Taggart's invite. Bowden, along with former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, will serve as honorary captain at the season-opener. Willie Taggart will serve as FSU head coach.
"Like any coach, you make moves to improve your career," said Taggart, who went from a five-year $16 million deal at Oregon to five years and $30 million in Tallahassee. "I didn't think I'd be leaving Oregon after a year. If this wasn't my dream job, one I always wanted, I wouldn't have left."
Funny, I never knew FSU was Taggart's dream job when he was at USF.
"You never asked," Taggart said with a grin.
"I didn't think this job would come open It was crazy. People told me I can always get that job. Are you kidding me? They've only had two coaches in 40 years."
Here comes No. 3, talking about his offense.
"It's going to be simple, but lethal."
Taggart hadn't even switched over his license plates from Florida to Oregon before returning to the Sunshine State.
"People have been a lot luckier than me," he said. "It took me a while to get here. I had to prove myself over and over, but I appreciate the journey."
Here comes Willie, again.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029