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As he re-boots at Florida Atlantic, Willie Taggart ‘not chasing anything anymore’

The former USF and Florida State coach is trying to resuscitate his career with the Owls.
Shortly after his hiring as Florida Atlantic coach, Willie Taggart attended the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl, where the Owls defeated SMU.
Shortly after his hiring as Florida Atlantic coach, Willie Taggart attended the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl, where the Owls defeated SMU. [ Palm Beach Post ]
Published Sep. 24, 2020

Initially, we planned for our USF-Florida Atlantic buildup to culminate with a lengthy feature on new Owls (and former Bulls) coach Willie Taggart.

But yet again, the pandemic has forced us to audible.

Due to COVID-19 concerns stemming from USF’s game last weekend at Notre Dame, the Bulls-Owls contest is off for now, with no feasible make-up date looming in 2020. Still, Taggart obliged us with a lengthy phone interview two weeks ago, and we’re not about to let that go to waste.

So in lieu of a feature to advance a matchup that’s not happening, we offer this candid Q&A with Taggart, at the helm of his fourth program (USF, Oregon, FSU, FAU) in five seasons.

You told the FAU players at your initial team meeting you’re there for the long haul. What would you say to convince people of that?

"I wouldn’t say anything to 'em, to be honest with you. I mean what I say. I think people take my journey out of context. I think anyone that was in my position would probably do the same thing when you’re young and you have opportunities. You take advantage of 'em. I think any of these jobs I’ve taken, I didn’t go in saying, ‘Okay, I’m gonna be here and then leave to go here.’ That was never the case, it’s just that opportunity came when I was at those places and I took advantage of the opportunities.

“One thing I’ve learned now is, I don’t think you can say one or the other. I don’t think you can say you’re gonna be here a long period of time, or you’re gonna leave or anything, because those things aren’t always in your control. I think being here for a long period of time, FAU will have something to say about that as well. I had plans on being at Florida State for a long time, and you see how that worked out.”

Related: Games go on, but many traditions on hold in college football

How is Willie Taggart the coach different from the day he left USF?

“Through that journey as a young coach, you had goals and dreams of things you wanted to do. You were chasing those. At least, I was chasing those things. And I would say now I’m not chasing anything anymore. I chased a dream that I wanted, which was to coach at Florida State, and I’m not chasing anything else right now. For me personally now, every decision I make moving forward, I’ll make sure I lean on the good Lord. I took that for granted, so I’m gonna make sure I lean on Him in helping me make any decisions moving forward.”

Did your family get tired of moving?

“I’m sure our kids did. Any kid, you meet friends, then you get up and leave, I think that’s always tough on young people. But they are resilient and I think in the long run, it’s paying off for our kids. I mean, they go to a lot of different places and fit right in now. They’ve experienced a lot. We try to look at it as a positive.”

Someone in your inner circle told us your time in Tampa (2013-16) was the most enjoyable of your career. True?

“I mean, that’s home for me, so I find it hard to beat that. Not often you get a chance as a football coach to coach that close to your hometown (Palmetto). So that was home and I knew that area, more than any other area that I’ve been. To be honest with you, all my coaching jobs have been enjoyable and have been learning experiences. Even Florida State was enjoyable — at first. But again, I think more than anything you realize how it’s a business and some things are out of your control, and you can’t ever forget that.”

(At this point, Taggart expounds on his FSU experience, which ended with his dismissal after 21 games) “I can’t get mad at anybody. (FSU) gave me an opportunity and things didn’t work out as fast as we needed it to. I think if you just look at my career, Year Three was probably the best year wherever I’ve been; that’s when things really took off for us. But unfortunately we didn’t get that chance there, and again, I don’t have any hatred or anything against anyone. I appreciate them giving me that opportunity, and more importantly, I’m so thankful and grateful that I got an opportunity to be a head coach again after being let go. I’m gonna relish this opportunity.”

Willie Taggart was dismissed after only 21 games (and a 9-12 record) at FSU, his dream job.
Willie Taggart was dismissed after only 21 games (and a 9-12 record) at FSU, his dream job. [ GRANT HALVERSON | TNS ]

After FSU, did you want to hop right back on the horse, or did you want to take some time off?

“I’m not a down-time guy. I need to work. I know I’m a good football coach, and I wanted to get back into it as soon as I could. I was thankful and asked the good Lord to give me another opportunity, and I got one. Again, I’m very thankful for that, because it doesn’t happen often for most.”

It seems like you inherited a better situation at FAU (coming off an 11-3 season).

"Originally we did. There’s been a lot of changes since then. It’s like, you’ve got to be kidding me. We lost a lot of production from last year’s team. From the outside looking in you say, ‘Oh man, you’re loaded,’ but there’s a lot of production gone from last year, especially on defense.

All-Conference USA quarterback Chris Robison departed late in the summer. Was he dismissed or did he leave on his own?

(Taggart takes a long pause before answering). “It wasn’t FAU football, I’ll put it that way.”

Florida Atlantic University coach Willie Taggart is seen during an undated practice in Boca Raton.
Florida Atlantic University coach Willie Taggart is seen during an undated practice in Boca Raton. [ Palm Beach Post ]

Some guys aren’t crazy about coaching their own kids at this level (Will Taggart is an Owls freshman quarterback). Is that something you guys wanted?

“We never did really talk about it, to be honest with you. I always told him he can do what he wants to do. It’s his life and his future. I did mine, and he didn’t tell me what to do, so I’m not gonna tell him what to do, but I’m gonna help him along the way and make sure he’s in a good place. I will say this though: I was excited when he decided that he wanted to play for me.”

You sound as if you have no regrets.

“I’m never gonna live my life in regrets, that’s for sure. I look at all these things as experiences, and you’ve got to learn from 'em. If you don’t learn from 'em, that’s when things get crazy. I’m blessed to be 44 years old, coached at five different universities, not many people can say that. ... I’m still young. I still have my whole career ahead of me, so there’s no need to be upset about anything. Just keep your head down and get back to work.”