TALLAHASSEE | As soon as Willie Taggart walked onto a stage to be introduced as Florida State’s new football coach Wednesday, he immediately walked right off the other end to embrace his mother, Gloria, sitting nearby in a garnet Seminoles shirt.
In the midst of thanking many people who helped Taggart, 41, reach this new point in his coaching career, he also thanked his late father, John, who died in August, for “putting a good word in” for him to move back closer to home to be around his family.
Perhaps the most profound moment that sealed the deal for Taggart to leave Oregon after just one season for the vacant Florida State coaching job was a conversation with his 16-year-old son, Willie Taggart Jr., on Sunday night.
“He said, ‘Dad, I know you’re struggling with this decision and I know it’s your dream job,’” recalled Taggart, a Bradenton native who coached four seasons at USF. “You always tell me to chase my dreams and don’t let anybody get in the way of it.’ … He said, ‘I don’t want to leave, Dad, but if you’re going to chase your dreams, then I’m going to ride with you.’
“And that meant a lot to me. It was like me talking to him. It was like he was my father, talking to me.”
Taggart accepted his dream job when he was introduced as the new Seminoles football coach inside the Champions Club seating area at Doak Campbell Stadium on Wednesday.
Taggart was apologetic to his former employer and Oregon players, but said he was grateful for the opportunity to return to his home state.
Taggart and his family are diehard Seminoles fans. He grew up idolizing former FSU players “Prime Time” Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward, Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Peter Warrick, Anquan Bolden, Danny Kanell and Chris Weinke.
Taggart even wanted to play college football at Florida State, but he began his playing and coaching careers at Western Kentucky before spending four years rebuilding USF and this past season getting Oregon back on track.
Taggart said after hearing legendary coach Bobby Bowden speak about “faith, family and football,” he implemented those principles in his coaching philosophy.
Now, Taggart will be tasked with replacing former coach Jimbo Fisher and helping Florida State return to prominence in the ACC and as a contender for the College Football Playoff semifinals.
“I’m excited to be the man, and I want to continue the winning tradition,” Taggart said. “I know the last two coaches we’ve had here won a lot of ball games. So I expect to go out and win a lot of ball games like they did.”
Taggart said Florida State gauged his interest Thursday, a day before Fisher resigned to sign the richest contract in college football history — a 10-year, $75 million deal with Texas A&M. Taggart met with FSU officials on Monday in Arizona before news broke of his decision on Tuesday.
Taggart agreed to a six-year deal that will pay him $5 million annually. He’ll have $5.5 million to pay assistant coaches. And Florida State will pay his $3 million buyout to Oregon, along with more than $1.3 million still owed to USF for his departure to Oregon last year.
“When he expressed this position as his dream job, I knew we found our man,” FSU athletics director Stan Wilcox said of Taggart.
Taggart said he consulted several people before taking the FSU job, including mentors Jack, Jim and John Harbaugh and former Seminoles who are now his close friends, including like Sanders, Brooks and Corey Fuller.
Now Taggart will move quickly to salvage FSU’s 2018 recruiting class and implement his Gulf Coast offense he described as “lethal simplicity.”
Taggart also hopes to return Florida State’s defense to the tenacious group he was enamored with as a youngster.
“Excuse my language, but I want a damn good defense. I want our defense to back to where Florida State defense has been in the past,” Taggart said. “Excuse my language but we were a bunch of bad asses back in the days. We were a bunch of war daddies. People feared [us]. We want to get back to those days.”
Before Taggart gets to work in his new position, he is simply soaking it all in.
“It was really nice walking onto the field this morning, and walking to the 50-yard line, like, ‘Yes, I made it.’ ” Taggart said. “And then, you see your picture up on the big Jumbotron and my name was spelled right. ‘Yes!’
“So it was surreal. It was great. I’m excited and fired up right now, and I don’t think it’ll hit me until later on — especially when I get around the players a little more and build relationships. It’s going to be fun.”