TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart is so excited to be in Tallahassee that he can’t wait to leave.
But don’t worry, he’ll be back soon.
As Florida State’s new head coach gets to work on what he calls a “realignment” of the Seminoles’ football program, his first order of business is to hit the recruiting trail.
Less than 24 hours after his arrival at FSU, Taggart, along with interim head coach Odell Haggins and offensive line coach Rick Trickett, was out meeting with prospects.
— Willie Taggart (@CoachTaggart) December 7, 2017
“Don’t get me wrong, I love you all and love being here, but there’s a lot of work to be done, and we’ve got to make sure we do that,” Taggart said at his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.”
That’s true any time a new coach is hired at the end of a season, but there’s extra urgency this time around. In years past, prep prospects could first sign with their college of choice on the annual National Signing Day in February, but the NCAA earlier this year approved a first ever early signing period.
For three days – Dec. 20-22 – a recruit may sign his National Letter of Intent and end his recruiting process. All players who remain unsigned after Dec. 22 must then wait until the usual signing day, which for this cycle comes on Feb. 7.
The rule is in its first year, so no one knows exactly how many prospects will choose to sign early. But some recruiting analysts believe the number could be as high as 75 percent.
So, whereas Taggart would have had nearly two months to work on the Seminoles’ signing class in a previous year, he now has less than two weeks.
No wonder he was so anxious to hit the road.
“It’s difficult because of the relationships you have to build, which is so important in recruiting,” Taggart said. “And you have such a short time building those relationships. So, it’s a challenge, but I look forward to it. I look forward to all challenges, but really looking forward to this one.”
Top-notch recruiting was a hallmark of Florida State’s success under Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles signed five top-five classes during Fisher’s eight-year tenure, and program standouts such as Lamarcus Joyner, Jameis Winston and Jalen Ramsey were all among the most coveted prospects of their classes.
But the end of the Fisher era did a number on the Seminoles’ current recruiting efforts. Several players who had verbally committed to FSU and Fisher backed off those pledges, and others publicly used their social media accounts to express frustration about the uncertainty surrounding the program.
Taggart said the top item on his recruiting to-do list is to meet with the players and families still committed to FSU and share with them his vision for the future.
From there, he’ll expand his horizons in search of more players to bolster the ranks.
It sounds like a big job, but Taggart has reason for optimism. After all, it’s still Florida State. Finding players who want to play for the Seminoles might be easier than at, say, Western Kentucky, South Florida or even Oregon.
“I know there’s a lot of Noles out there that want to be here,” Taggart said. “We’re going to go out and find them.”
Then again, Taggart himself might represent the biggest reason for optimism.
During his search for a new coach, FSU athletics director Stan Wilcox made it no secret that hiring an ace recruiter was among his top priorities. And Taggart certainly fits the bill.
His teams at Western Kentucky and USF were among the most talented either of those programs have had, and he was putting together a highly-regarded class at Oregon – a group heavy with players from the southeast – before the FSU job came available.
And Taggart’s upbringing in Palmetto, Fla., as well as his playing career at prep power Manatee High in Bradenton, mean that he’s plenty familiar with the high school football landscape in the Sunshine State.
Throughout his travels, Taggart has found this to be true:
“Most kids want to be at FSU,” he said. “Not necessarily because of the coach, but because they want to be here at our great university.
“Now, being a good person and a good coach will help getting those young men. But I think a lot of them really (already) wanted to be here, grew up wanting to be here as well.”
Taggart also shared some insight on the type of player he’s looking to recruit.
He said there are three things he requires in a player: “Being the best football player they can be, and the best student they can be, and having the best character that they can have,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to judge our guys on.”
If a player is falling a little short in one of those three areas, Taggart said he and his staff will work to get him up to speed.
Falling short in two of three, though, means falling short of Taggart’s standard.
“You’ve got to have great character, be a great football player, be the best that you can be in the classroom,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for here. I think if we’re doing those things, winning will take care of itself. Winning a championship will take care of itself, because we’ll be doing those things, and that just will be part of our life.
“So I’m looking forward to finding young men like that to come in here and be a part of this great university.”