TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Willie Taggart and Al Dunlap are nearly 40 years apart in age and grew up in cities separated by more than 1,000 miles.
At first glance, the two don’t seem to have much in common.
But don’t tell that to Dunlap, who emerged from an impoverished upbringing in Hoboken, N.J., to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and eventually become a famed corporate executive known around the world for the way he restructured failing businesses.
Dunlap believes that rebuilding a floundering business isn’t all that different from the task that coaches face when taking over dormant football programs.
So, in that sense, Dunlap believes that he and Taggart have some shared experiences.
“He comes from a background very similar to mine,” Dunlap said. “I did turn around some major corporations. And if you look at his career, he went to some teams that were terrible and he turned them around.”
After first speaking with Florida State’s first-year coach on the phone, then meeting with him in person, Dunlap was convinced that Taggart is the right man to return the Seminoles to national prominence.
Which is why on Saturday, prior to FSU’s kickoff against No. 2 Clemson, Dunlap and his wife, Judy, announced a $20 million lead gift to Seminole Boosters’ Unconquered Campaign, the centerpiece of which is a new, football-only facility to be built adjacent to FSU’s current practice fields.
That building – The Albert J. and Judith A. Dunlap Football Center – will be the latest fruit borne from a relationship between FSU and the Dunlap family that spans more than 20 years.
Since first visiting FSU’s College of Business for a speaking engagement in the mid-1990s, the Dunlaps have contributed more than $40 million to Florida State.
Their gifts have led to multiple new athletics facilities – The Al Dunlap Practice Fields, the Albert J. Dunlap Athletic Training Facility and the Albert J. and Judith A. Dunlap Champions Club at Doak Campbell Stadium – as well as an on-campus building geared toward helping FSU students in their professional development.
That facility, the Albert J. and Judith A. Dunlap Student Success Center, opened in 2008 and stands at the heart of Florida State’s campus on the corner of Woodward Ave. and Traditions Way.
“That is probably the thing that makes me happiest,” Judy Dunlap said. “That’s important to me, that (FSU students) have an opportunity to get ahead in life, have an extra foot out the door. And, really, the Success Center is to help the kids from the university into whatever field they choose to go into and prepare them.”
The Dunlaps place heavy emphasis on both athletics and education. Without the former, Al said, he’d have never had the opportunity to get the latter.
It was his career as a high school football and track star in Hoboken that led him to West Point, and the aches and bruises that sometimes come with being an athlete are what Dunlap considers “a price well paid.”
No wonder, then, that as the Dunlaps considered how best to contribute to the causes that they held close to their heart, getting involved with college athletics was near the top of the list.
“What sports does for you is immeasurable,” Dunlap said. “Without sports, I wouldn’t have went to college. I wouldn’t have had any of the things I have today, and I wouldn’t have learned the lessons.”
The Dunlaps have spread their generosity to a variety of different causes, including the Dunlap Cancer Center in Judy’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisc., as well their 100-acre farm in Ocala that’s home to dozens of rescue animals of all sizes.
They’ve even adopted a rescued Appaloosa horse.
Still, there’s something that always draws the Dunlaps back to Florida State.
Whether the students, the faculty or, most recently, the football staff, both Al and Judy Dunlap say that FSU is a “truly outstanding” institution.
“You get a feeling when you come here, it’s like coming home,” Judy Dunlap said. “It’s relaxing. And the kids are just so great.”
They feel the same about Taggart, too.
“I think he’s a fine coach and a fine man, and I personally support him,” Dunlap said. “I think he’s a terrific guy, an honest guy.”
Construction on the Dunlap Football Facility has yet to begin, but artist renderings have given a glimpse of what to expect.
Per FSU’s official announcement last month, future Seminoles can expect a new locker room, cutting-edge training and hydrotherapy facilities, a new weight room that connects with FSU’s indoor practice field, larger meetings and offices, and, of course, a recruiting lounge.
The Dunlaps expect the football facility will be a hit with both current and prospective Seminoles alike.
“I want them to think, ‘Wow, this school really cares about their sports programs and they also have excellent academic programs,’” Al Dunlap said, “’And, boy, I would like my son or daughter to come here.’”
Added Judy: “I want someone, when they walk through the front door – or even when they drive up to the outside – I want their mouth to open and not shut.”