TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Willie Taggart started his Florida State career with the Tomahawk Chop as he arrived to cheerleaders and the Seminoles marching band.
But that was only the beginning of his hourlong introduction, in which he apologized to Oregon for leaving but repeatedly said he decided to go to take his dream job. Taggart signed a six-year contract worth $30 million to take over for Jimbo Fisher, who left for Texas A&M.
Taggart talked at length about his childhood growing up in Palmetto, Florida, where his whole family rooted for the Seminoles. He said he always wanted to find his way here, so when he walked onto the 50-yard line at Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time, he raised his arms and shouted, “I made it.”
It was not an easy choice, though. A visibly emotional Taggart related a story about his 16-year-old son, Willie Jr., as Taggart agonized with his wife over whether he should leave Oregon after just one season.
Taggart said, “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. 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 dreams. I don’t want to leave, Dad, but if you are going to chase your dream, I am going to ride with you.’
“That meant a lot to me. Me talking to him, he was like my father talking to me. It was gratifying, I was so proud of him. How he articulated those things to me. Made me follow my own advice I gave him. That was big time for my wife and I. We just saw there and cried and like wow. I know this is hard for him, hard for my family, moving once again.”
Taggart began his head-coaching career in 2010 at Western Kentucky, before moving to South Florida for four seasons, and then Oregon. Asked how hard it was to leave Oregon after such a brief time, Taggart said he apologized to athletic director Rob Mullens.
“Things were going really well there in every aspect,” Taggart said. “The people you meet, the relationships you built, it’s always tough when you have to end that. Just think about it: Being able to meet Phil Knight, he’s an icon. I was in awe when I had a chance to meet him. Rob Mullens, who I thought was an awesome AD, for him to give me my first opportunity to coach in the Power 5, you feel bad because you feel like you let him down, and I know I did. I told him I’m sorry. I apologize. The timing is probably not right, but it’s never right when it’s time to leave. Talking with my son made me realize a lot.
“I wasn’t going to leave it just for anything. To be closer to your family and still be a coach in the Power 5, still have an opportunity to win a national championship, it was tough to overcome.”
His mother, Gloria, sat in the front row during the news conference with several other family members, making the four-hour drive with her granddaughter. Taggart talked extensively about being closer to home, and he mentioned his late father, saying, “I feel like I’m here now because of my dad, he put the word in to the good Lord, please get my son be closer to home and closer to his mom.”
“I am so happy that he’s closer to home. I wanted him to come here, too,” Gloria Taggart said. “Most of my whole family loves Florida State and the whole town is in an uproar. They wanted it. I know he’s going to do a good job here, and just to look up there and see my baby boy … it’s going to be a good ride.”
Though he has been a head coach at three different schools over the last calendar year, Taggart sounds like he is at Florida State for the long haul. His contract language says as much. His buyout is the length of the balance remaining on his contract at the time he decides to leave. So, if he left after one season, he’d owe Florida State $25 million.
Florida State also agreed to pay the remaining $1.37 million left on his buyout to USF, and the $3 million buyout owed to Oregon.
It was clearly a price worth paying, as Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox set out to hire Taggart from the moment Fisher decided to move on.
“The energy, the passion and his philosophy were exactly what we were looking for,” Wilcox said. “When he expressed this was his dream job, that did it for me. We had our man.”