The Florida State fight song accompanied Willie Taggart into his introductory press conference as the Seminoles’ new head coach.
His journey to FSU began long before the whirlwind of landing three head coaching jobs in 365 days.
It started in Palmetto, where Taggart grew up cheering for the Seminoles.
There was no other way, Taggart said during Wednesday’s press conference. It was the Noles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Taggart and his family.
But nobody in his family went to FSU, which included Taggart, who said he wasn’t good enough coming out of Manatee High as a state championship-winning quarterback to land a scholarship.
Now he’s fulfilling that lifelong dream.
“Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams,” said Taggart, who signed a six-year, $30 million deal to take over as FSU coach after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M last week.
Taggart spent the past season at Oregon, his first head coaching job at a Power 5 program. Taggart said his father passed away last summer, so the FSU job means relocating closer to his mother, who still lives in Manatee County.
But to come to the conclusion that he’d bolt Eugene for Tallahassee, Taggart consulted with former FSU players and Pro Football Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks before taking the job.
He also reached out to the Harbaugh family, which he grew close with over the years, starting with his playing days at Western Kentucky for then-head coach Jack Harbaugh. He’s also close with Jim Harbaugh (Michigan head coach) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens head coach).
“They’re my rock,” Taggart said. “When I need something I’m struggling with, I give them a call.”
Taggart also exchanged a text message with his former Manatee High head coach Joe Kinnan, who helped Taggart implement the Gulf Coast Offense during his four-year tenure (2013-16) at South Florida.
“I told him he was prepared to make whatever decision needed to be made,” Kinnan said.
Ultimately, though, it was Taggart’s 16-year-old son, Willie Jr., who decided whether Taggart would leave Oregon for FSU.
“My 16-year-old son came in, out of nowhere, and said, ‘Dad, I know you are struggling with this decision and it is your dream job,’ ” Taggart said. “ ‘You always tell me to chase my dreams and don’t let anyone get in the way of it. I don’t think it is right for me or anyone else to stop you from chasing your dream. I don’t want to leave, dad, but if you are going to chase your dream, I am going to ride with you.’ ”
Added FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox: “When he expressed this position as his dream job, I knew we found our man.”
Growing up a Florida State fan, Taggart knows there haven’t been many head coaching opportunities at the school – the legendary Bobby Bowden and his successor, Fisher, were the only two to occupy the position since 1976.
“I can officially say I’m in,” Taggart said. “I’m in now.”
Other highlights from Wednesday’s news conference:
- Taggart shed tears as he discussed his family full of FSU fans, which included his brother who rooted for the Noles even when Taggart coached South Florida against FSU in 2015.
- Taggart didn’t say anything about rebuilding at FSU, which is what he did in his three previous head coaching stops at Western Kentucky, USF and Oregon. Instead, he considers it a realignment and the expectations are to make sure FSU is in the discussion for the ACC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff.
- Taggart discussed his Palmetto roots, Manatee High football, Kinnan and neighborhood friend Peter Warrick, who played at Southeast High and FSU before an NFL career.
- Recruiting goals for Taggart? “We need to put a fence around the state of Florida and try to keep our best players here.”
- Taggart talked about the timetable that led to the deal to become the FSU coach. it started last Thursday with the knowledge that FSU was interested in him, Taggart said. But he said there was nothing but interest. Wilcox called Taggart on Sunday to “catch up.” Eventually, that materialized into the offer and acceptance.