TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In his first remarks as Florida State’s head football coach, Willie Taggart told a gathered crowd of reporters, administrators, support staff and boosters to not be afraid to follow their dreams.
Taggart knows a thing or two about that.
As a kid in his hometown of Palmetto, Fla., Taggart practically breathed Florida State football. He remembers tuning in to FSU games on portable TVs at tailgates, counts Amp Lee, Derrick Brooks and Charlie Ward among his football icons and considers Peter Warrick one of his closest friends.
He knows all about Osceola and Renegade and the Bowden Dynasty and the tomahawk stickers on the Seminoles’ gold helmets.
“Growing up in my household,” Taggart said, “if you weren’t a Noles fan, you probably weren’t staying in that house.”
But it wasn’t Florida State’s football tradition that convinced Taggart to leave his post at Oregon for Tallahassee. Nor was it the Seminoles’ foundation of recent success or vision for the future.
It was a dream.
More specifically, it was a conversation between Taggart, his wife Taneshia and their 16-year-old son Willie Jr., about dreams.
“Excuse me if I get a little emotional,” Taggart said. “But my wife and I were sitting and talking about this decision. And my 16-year-old son came in and, out of nowhere – I didn’t expect this – he said, ‘Dad, I know you’re struggling with your decision. And I know (Florida State) is your dream job.’
“And he said, ‘You always tell me to chase my dreams, and don’t let anyone get in the way of it.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think it’s right for me or anyone else to stop you from chasing your dreams.’”
Finally, Willie Taggart Jr. told his father exactly what he needed to hear: “I don’t want to leave, Dad. But if you’re going to chase your dreams, then I’m going to ride with you.’”
Taggart called it a “profound moment” in his life as a father, especially after losing his own father John earlier this year.
“It was like me talking to him,” Taggart said. “Like he was my father talking to me.”
Just like that, a hard decision was made easy, and Florida State had its 10th full-time head football coach.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) December 6, 2017
After being introduced by FSU president John Thrasher and athletics director Stan Wilcox, Taggart fielded questions from media for more than 30 minutes.
Among the topics discussed were Taggart’s offensive philosophy (He calls it, “Lethal Simplicity.”), his plans for recruiting (“I know there’s a lot of Noles out there who want to be here. We’re going to go out and find them.”) and his thoughts on the state of FSU’s roster (“This is not a rebuild. This is more of a realignment.”).
Taggart also won over the room when asked for his thoughts on being the first African-American head football coach in school history.
Taggart, who broke that barrier in previous stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon, smiled and reminded the reporter that it was Odell Haggins, the FSU assistant who took over as interim coach in the wake of Jimbo Fisher’s sudden departure last week, who held that distinction.
“I really didn’t think about it much, but I do understand my role,” Taggart said. “And I do understand a lot of people are counting on me to do well, and I appreciate that and I take pride in doing a good job.
“And hopefully can inspire more to do a good job.”
Taggart was equal parts engaging, charismatic, confident and vulnerable in his introductory press conference, which capped what has been a whirlwind of a day.
After agreeing to terms with FSU on Tuesday, Taggart informed his former players at Oregon of his plans, made his arrangements and was on a red-eye flight to Tallahassee late last night.
He arrived at about 2:30 a.m., drove with Wilcox to the Moore Athletics Center at 7 and, by 8, was in front of his new team at Florida State for the first time.
Taggart met with the Seminoles for about half an hour, and said he laid out expectations while also relaying just how happy he is to be their new leader.
“It was good,” Taggart said. “I talkedto them about how pleased I am to be their football coach and how pleased I am to have an opportunity to be a part of their team. Because, at the end of the day, it’s their football team. It’s not my team. I’m excited to be a part of that with them and help them get it back to where we all know it should be.”
Let’s do this ?
— Deondre Francois™ (@_Dirtie12) December 5, 2017
The energy is just different.. ?
— LT (@17LoganTyler) December 6, 2017
From there, Taggart made his way upstairs to a meet-and-greet breakfast with Florida State’s other head coaches, including Leonard Hamilton, Mike Martin and Trey Jones.
Martin, the Florida State coaching icon who graduated from FSU before taking over the baseball team in 1980, welcomed Taggart home.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) December 6, 2017
Taggart then made his way onto the field at Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time, noting how glad he was to see a natural grass playing surface again.
With his face and name displayed on the north end zone videoboard – spelled correctly, as he later happily recalled – Taggart walked to the 50-yard line, stood on the Seminole head logo and took a deep breath.
A handful of fans and stadium staffers poked their heads out of their office windows and cheered as Taggart spread his arms, grinned and said, “Yes! I made it!”
A few quick meetings, photo- and video shoots later, Taggart and Wilcox climbed into an SUV and rode together around Doak Campbell Stadium to the Champions Club, where Taggart’s press conference was set to take place.
It was there that Taggart made his first impression with his new fan base:
— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 6, 2017
Taggart later said that, as a child, he played football “every single day.” That, if anyone wanted to find him, they knew to look on “somebody’s field.”
He rose through the prep football ranks, starring at Manatee High with the dream of one day playing for Bowden in Tallahassee.
The only problem: “I guess I wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship to come and play here,” Taggart said with a smile.
But that didn’t diminish his love for all things garnet and gold. He kept tabs on the Seminoles during his playing career at Western Kentucky while FSU closed in on Bowden’s second national title.
And he made sure to keep following the program as it transitioned from Bowden to Fisher, despite being in the early stages of a coaching career that took him from Western Kentucky to Stanford and back.
“No matter where I went, the Seminoles were always a part of me,” Taggart said. “I rooted for who I was with, and I rooted for the Seminoles.”
Now, there will be no conflicts.
Nearly 20 years after missing out on the chance to wear garnet and gold as a player, Taggart has been entrusted with an even bigger task: Maintaining the legacy that was built by Bowden and sustained by Fisher, and guiding the Seminoles forward.
Turns out that reality is even better than the dream.
“All those years I wanted to be a Nole and supported the Noles and never gave up on it,” Taggart said. “And now we’re here today, and now I’m the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles.
“You talk about chasing a dream? I always wanted to be a part of it. And I can officially say I’m in. I’m in now.”