Willie Taggart, in dream job at Florida State, confidently taking on doubters again

“I figured at some point I'd be head football coach at Florida State,” Willie Taggart says. “I love this school. I'm ready for it all.” (OCTAVIO JONES | Times )
“I figured at some point I'd be head football coach at Florida State,” Willie Taggart says. “I love this school. I'm ready for it all.” (OCTAVIO JONES | Times )
Published September 2 2018

TALLAHASSEE — The 10th head football coach in Florida State history, just the third in the past 42 years, sat munching gummy bears in his office — the office where Bobby Bowden once sat, where Jimbo Fisher once sat.

Willie Taggart, the Meteor Man — from here to there in blinks of an eye, Western Kentucky to USF to Oregon and now to 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 get 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 horned-rim glasses 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. Then USF took the field at Raymond James Stadium for Taggart's debut. The Bulls were beyond stunned by McNeese State in their season opener 53-21.

Taggart smiled.

"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") and 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 championships. This is Florida State, all that talent, where you reload instead of rebuild. This is Taggart's task. Today. Right now.

"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 also one of his favorite sayings, dating to USF and even before that:
"Do something."

It's what he tells his players.

"You've worked to get here, now do something."

Taggart, who turned 42 last week, has never wasted time. He has his starting quarterback (Deondre Francois over James Blackman) and a meaty schedule, which includes a Labor Day night opener Monday 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!

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. 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, grinning.

"I didn't think this job would come open. It was crazy. People told me I can always get that (FSU) 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 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 awhile to get here. I had to prove myself over and over, but I appreciate the journey."

Here comes Willie, again.

Welcome back.

Do something.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.