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Fennelly: Leave doubt in the dust when it comes to Willie Taggart

Then-USF coach Willie Taggart and his team celebrate their victory over the UCF Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando on Thursday, November 26, 2015. The USF Bulls celebrate defeating the UCF Knights 44-3. (Octavio Jones, Times)
Published Dec. 5, 2017

Start the bus.

When embracing Willie Taggart, Florida State head football coach, we'd do well to consider Willie Taggart, USF head football coach.

It's easy to do. I think it was like 20 minutes ago.

Never count this guy out.

I've seen Willie Taggart with one foot in the grave. I've seen him with two feet in the grave, a dead-end coach in a dead-end job.

Now he's out to save Florida State.

Steamboat Willie can't be stopped.

Taggart will be charged with turning FSU around. Just like he was once asked to rescue Western Kentucky, and USF, and Oregon, which Taggart did in all three cases.

It's what Willie does.

Taggart is one of the great comeback stories in college sports history. Willie can come back from anything. Tennessee could hire him and he'd come back from that, too.

Never count this guy out.

I did that during Taggart's first season at USF.

I did that in his third season at USF.

What did I know?

RELATED: Former USF coach Willie Taggart taking over at FSU

I still remember when Willie talked about "the bus." Getting everybody on the bus. He was going to put everybody in the right seats and get behind the wheel. Hop aboard.

He was the Willie show who won a state title at Manatee High after no less than Tommie Frazier didn't. He then became the lost Harbaugh brother at Western Kentucky as a player and at Stanford as a coach under Jim Harbaugh. Willie, the lost Harbaugh brother. It was hard not to get swept up in Willie.

Then the bus went off the cliff. USF lost to Division I-AA McNeese State in Taggart's debut. It was shocking. It already seemed like the beginning of the end already.

What did I know?

I thought for sure that Taggart was a goner during his third season. Willie stuck to his guns. But unbeaten Memphis was the opponent. Taggart seemed a dead man. The only thing left was to put together the news release announcing his dismissal.

What did we know?

USF lost to Memphis, but it was close. Taggart apologized after the game. He bought himself a few days.

"I told our players, put that one on me," Taggart said.

A few days later, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers asked the head coach to trust USF's talent, to let the players loose.

And that's how a coaching genius was born.

Beginning with a big, high-scoring win over Syracuse, Taggart and the new USF never looked back. Taggart won four of his last five games in 2015 and USF went 11-2 in 2016 and won the Birmingham Bowl against South Carolina. I remember Taggart tweeting me after I accused USF of running up the score. It was nearly a sign of status.

Then Taggart left.

RELATED: How Willie Taggart went from the hot seat to hot commodity in one game

It was the "Slick Willie" portion of the program. Taggart talked about getting the Bulls ready for the bowl game even as Oregon researched him and he researched Oregon.

He becomes the first full-time African-American head football coach in Florida State history. Taggart wants to be the first African-American head coach to win a college football national championship. Willie is chasing history. Willie has plans.

Speaking of comebacks, if Taggart comes to Tallahassee, expect that he will bring his Oregon defensive coordinator: Jim Leavitt. Leavitt, the first head coach in USF football had his highs and lows — extreme lows — before he was shown the door for allegedly assaulting a player. USF eventually reached a settlement with Leavitt. And now he might be returning. Another amazing turn of events.

All that's left is the news conference, which Taggart will win decisively … and the recruiting trails, and Florida coach Dan Mullen quaking in his alligator boots. Taggart vs. Mullen. To young offensive minds. Love the matchup.

Here comes Willie.

Never count him out.

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

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