Willie Taggart is returning home.
One day after meeting with Florida State University officials in Arizona, the Palmetto native and former Manatee High standout reached an agreement with the Seminoles on Tuesday, bringing an end to FSU’s first coaching search in more than four decades after only five days.
Taggart replaces Jimbo Fisher, who resigned last week to accept a 10-year, $75 million offer from Texas A&M.
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Both coaches who preceded Taggart in Tallahassee – Bobby Bowden and Fisher – led the Seminoles to national championships.
Moreover, Taggart is only the third FSU head coach since 1976, following lengthy tenures by the legendary Bowden (1976-2009) and Fisher (2010-17).
Taggart, 41, returns to the Sunshine State after spending one season at Oregon, where he led the Ducks to a 7-5 record and a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Oregon enjoyed a three-win improvement during Taggart’s lone season in Eugene even though starting quarterback Justin Herbert missed most of the season with a collarbone injury.
Taggart also has the distinction of coaching three teams in one calendar year. He left South Florida for Oregon on Dec. 7, 2016, and spent 363 days leading the Ducks’ program before taking the FSU job.
Taggart announced the news to Oregon players in an early-afternoon team meeting on Tuesday.
According to the Oregonian, Taggart owes Oregon a $4.5 million buyout – $3 million per his contract, plus the $1.5 million that the university paid USF this time last year.
After Fisher announced he was leaving FSU on Friday, Taggart was peppered with questions regarding his interest in returning to his home state. He told reporters he “absolutely” understood that his background – he continued to recruit players from the Sunshine State while at Oregon – and resume were big reasons he was considered the front-runner for the job in Tallahassee.
“I coached (in Florida) and had a good season there and I just came here and had a good season here,” he said last week. “Our players have done a good job. Whenever you do a good job people talk about you. I’d rather people talk about me like that than the other way.”
Now he’s back in Florida, taking over a program that won the 2013 national championship.
From 2013-16, Taggart was the head coach at USF, guiding the Bulls to a 10-2 record in 2016 before accepting the job at Oregon. He was 24-25 during his four seasons at USF.
Taggart’s first homecoming came after coaching Western Kentucky, his alma mater, from 2010-12. He was 16-20 with the Hilltoppers – Western Kentucky broke a 26-game losing streak during his first season – before returning to Florida to take over the USF program.
In the days since Fisher left FSU, all eyes had been on Taggart, who is regarded as an ace recruiter and a rebuilder of programs.
Florida State’s recruiting class fell to No. 31 in the 247Sports composite team rankings after several Class of 2018 players decommitted from the program following Fisher’s departure for Texas A&M.
With the Noles coming off a disappointing 6-6 regular season, Taggart will quickly need to assemble a staff as college football’s early signing period (Dec. 20-22) rapidly approaches.
“I think that’s very important that they are able to recruit in the state of Florida. That’s what we’ve always been able to do,” Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox said about potential coaching candidates after FSU’s bowl-clinching win over Louisiana-Monroe last Saturday.
“If they have a proven track record of being a great recruiter, and a great recruiter in the state of Florida and South Florida, that’s going to be a very good criteria we’re looking for.”
Taggart also becomes the first African-American coach at Florida State – a feat he also accomplished at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon.
Taggart recently was offered a five-year, $20 million extension by Oregon but didn’t sign it, leading to rampant speculation that he would depart Oregon after one season for his dream job at Florida State.
Taggart’s coaching career began not long after he graduated from Western Kentucky in 1998. He served as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach at his alma mater for eight season, highlighted by a Division I-AA national title in 2002.
Taggart then coached running backs at Stanford under current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh from 2007-09 before returning to Western Kentucky as a first-time head coach.
He won two games in his first season at Western Kentucky before back-to-back 7-5 seasons in 2011 and 2012, which helped him land the job at South Florida.
As a standout quarterback at Manatee High in the early 1990s, Taggart helped lead the Hurricanes to the Class 5A state championship in 1992 and a runner-up finish a year later.
Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.