Monday, December 11, 2017
Colleges

Willie Taggart’s FSU decision more emotional than avaricious

TALLAHASSEE — Before making one of the most agonizing decisions of his 41-year-old existence, Willie Taggart turned to his most valued consiglieres.

Close friend (and former boss) Jim Harbaugh got a call. So did Derrick Brooks and Deion Sanders, two of his teen idols. He even dialed up former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, who worked closely with Taggart as a USF athletics administrator during his final two seasons in Tampa.

But the most profound advice came from the oldest of his three kids. Will, a lanky 16-year-old who bears a stunning resemblance to his dad, approached Taggart and wife Taneshia as they were sitting on the sofa contemplating a move to Florida State after less than one calendar year in Eugene, Ore.

"Out of nowhere — I didn’t expect this — he said, ‘Dad, I know you’re struggling with this decision, and I know this is your dream job,’ " Taggart said, his voice cracking.

" ‘You always tell me to chase my dreams and don’t let anyone get in the way of ’em. I don’t think it’s right for me or anyone else to stop you from chasing your dreams.’ And he said, ‘I don’t wanna leave, dad, but if you’re gonna chase your dream, I’m gonna ride with you.’ "

With that, Taggart said, he and Taneshia broke down.

RELATED: Expect a simpler, faster FSU game plan under Willie Taggart

Today, some segments of the collegiate landscape — namely Eugene — view Taggart as the latest in a growing list of coaching mercenaries. In the span of a literal calendar year, he has coached at three schools (USF, Oregon and now, FSU), earning a significant salary bump each time.

Undoubtedly, more than a few scoffed when he spoke of FSU as his dream job Wednesday during his introductory news conference in a Doak Campbell Stadium club area. They’re not as convinced of Taggart’s sincerity as ’Noles athletic director Stan Wilcox, who said this upon introducing Taggart:

"When he expressed this position as his dream job, that did it for me. I knew we had found our man."

But if you’re not inclined to take Taggart for his word, or even for his weeping, consider this anecdote he tossed out early in his 40-minute stint at the dais.

While coaching at USF, at least one of his five siblings refused to root for the Bulls when they played the ’Noles.

The Taggarts of Palmetto were that fanatical about FSU.

"You know how people say blood is thicker than water — not in my household," Taggart said.

"Growing up in my household, if you weren’t a ’Noles fan you probably weren’t staying in that house. If you were living in my house, you would’ve thought everybody in that house graduated from FSU, and none of us did."

He was nurtured on Neon Deion, Charlie Ward — the whole constellation of Bowden-groomed stars. Taggart’s legendary coach at Manatee High, Joe Kinnan, played at FSU. He wanted to attend Manatee in part because of FSU defensive back Tracy Sanders who, like Taggart, helped lead Manatee to a state title as a quarterback.

"I wanted to come (to FSU) and play," Taggart told Wednesday’s assemblage, which included reporters, trustees, administrators and even former Bobby Bowden assistants Jim Gladden and Mickey Andrews.

"I guess I wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship to play here (Taggart played at Western Kentucky instead). But no matter where I went … the Seminoles were always a part of me. I rooted for who I was with, and I rooted for the Seminoles until I went to (USF).

"That was the first time I had to root against the Seminoles."

Surely, the detractors will need more than familial anecdotes to be sold. For them, time will be the sole determinant of his commitment. As it stands, Taggart has left spurned administrators and disillusioned recruits in the wake of his burnt-rubber departure from the Pacific Time Zone to the Panhandle.

And his FSU contract — six years, $5 million annually — only fortifies their skepticism.

"I was disappointed," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters in Eugene. "We sat down a year ago and we made a commitment to him and he made a commitment to us. We’ve done everything to support our commitment to get here today. And I’m disappointed."

RELATED: FSU president digs at Jimbo Fisher: It was like a no-brainer

But as Taggart spoke — sometimes with a cracked voice — Wednesday, the more neutral observers might have concluded Taggart would have done things differently had he been able to read the tea leaves more accurately.

Had he known Jimbo Fisher would bolt Tallahassee at the end of the 2017 season, Taggart might have chosen to stay one more season at USF, where the veteran team he bequeathed to Charlie Strong finished 9-2 and came excruciatingly close to a conference division title.

Another banner year at USF might have made Taggart the top candidate at FSU even without a one-year stopover in Oregon.

Alas, his destination wasn’t a direct flight.

"You start your career and you always have dreams and goals, and it’s pretty amazing how life can put you in places where you need to be," Taggart said. "It’s different ways of getting there and crazy ways of getting there, and all those years I wanted to be a ’Nole."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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