TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After less than a week on the hunt, Florida State has its man.
FSU on Tuesday announced that Willie Taggart, the former coach at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon, has agreed to become the next coach of the Seminoles’ football team.
A Bradenton, Fla., native who grew up a Florida State fan, Taggart is the 10th full-time head coach in program history and just its third head coach since 1976, when the legendary Bobby Bowden first took over in Tallahassee.
He succeeds Jimbo Fisher, who recently left after 11 seasons with FSU, including eight as head coach.
Taggart brings a 47-50 overall record as a head coach, but that mark includes massive rebuilding jobs at WKU and USF, as well as a quick turnaround at Oregon.
Western Kentucky, Taggart’s alma mater, had lost 20 straight games when he took over in 2010. But under Taggart’s guidance, the Hilltoppers went 2-10 in their new coach’s first season, then 7-5 in both 2011 and 2012.
Taggart’s stay in Tampa followed a similar script. He took over a team that went 3-9 the year before his arrival and, after a 2-10 mark in his first season, doubled the Bulls’ win totals in 2014 (4-8) and 2015 (8-4).
That momentum carried into a memorable 2016 campaign in which the Bulls set a school record with 11 wins and capped their season with a 46-39 victory over Southeastern Conference foe South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
That was enough to catch the attention of the Oregon Ducks, who were in need of a rebuild after stumbling to a 4-8 record in 2016.
As he had at all previous stops, Taggart increased the Ducks’ win total in his first year in Eugene, leading them to a 7-5 mark that included wins over Nebraska, Utah, Arizona and Oregon State.
And the Ducks might have been in for even bigger things had they not lost starting quarterback Justin Herbert to a broken collarbone earlier this season. At the time of his injury, Oregon was 4-1 and ranked 24th in the country.
Away from the field, the 41-year-old Taggart has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters, which ought to come in handy with the first ever early signing day looming on Dec. 20.
Taggart’s Florida roots – he was a few years behind Nebraska star Tommie Frazier at Manatee High in Bradenton – have helped him make strong inroads in the state’s prep football community.
The turnarounds at WKU and USF were both built on a new influx of talent, and he was in the midst of putting together a potential top-10 class at Oregon when FSU came calling.
Before becoming a coach, Taggart was first a quarterback. He was a four-year starter at the position at Western Kentucky, where he was coached by Jack Harbaugh and recruited by Harbaugh’s son Jim, who got his start in coaching on his father’s WKU staff while still playing in the NFL.
Taggart went on to become a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the top player in the NCAA FCS, and he is one of only four players in the program’s history to have his jersey retired.
He later reconnected with Jim Harbaugh when Harbaugh hired him to coach running backs at Stanford in 2007. Taggart held that post for three seasons and helped Cardinal standout Toby Gerhart to unanimous All-America honors and a runner-up finish in the 2009 Heisman Trophy vote.
Taggart and his wife Taneshia have three children – sons Willie Jr. and Jackson, and daughter Morgan.
As a player
1994-98: Western Kentucky, QB
As a coach
1999: Western Kentucky, WRs
2000: Western Kentucky, QBs
2001-02: Western Kentucky, Co-OC/QBs
2003-06: Western Kentucky, Assoc. HC/QBs
2007-09: Stanford, RBs
2010-12: Western Kentucky, HC
2013-16: South Florida, HC
2017: Oregon, HC