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Taggart, ‘Noles the Perfect Match

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Call it football fate, but time has led Willie Taggart to Florida State.

It's been over 40 years since Florida State has had a traditional coaching search. When the legendary Bobby Bowden came to Tallahassee in 1976, a dynasty soon followed, then Jimbo Fisher, who was named the Seminoles' head-coach-in-waiting while serving as offensive coordinator on Bowden's staff. The last time Florida State went out and brought in a new head football coach, his debut came before the current one was born. This is a homecoming years in the making.  

After a generation-plus of not having to make a move on the move, the Seminoles needed just days to identify and hire the 10th head football coach in program history: Willie Taggart. Florida State spanned the country for the 41-year old, traveling to Oregon to bring Taggart back to the state where he was born and raised. Taggart takes over the Seminoles after stints with the Ducks, South Florida and Western Kentucky. Per reports, he has called Florida State his "dream job", a reality Taggart can now hold like a panhandle.   

A former quarterback at Western Kentucky, Taggart is from Bradenton, Florida, the same Gulf Coast town as former FSU All-American wide receiver Peter Warrick. Taggart grew up rooting for the program he will now lead. While at Manatee High School, Taggart backed up future Heisman Trophy winner Tommie Frazier at Nebraska, the quarterback whom the Seminoles defeated for the 1993 national championship, their first in school history. 

Taggart, the player, was a legendary college signal caller for the Hilltoppers, a four-year starter who was twice named a finalist for the Walter Payton Award, an honor given to the best in FCS football. Out of high school, he was recruited by now-Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to Western Kentucky and there played for his father, Jack, the long-time leader of the Hilltoppers.

Coaching started right away for Taggart, who began his career an assistant in 1999, the year of Bowden's unbeaten, wire-to-wire number one, national championship, a season where Warrick was the team's star player. 

There has been a consistent theme to Taggart's work ever since: improvement. The season before his head coaching debut at Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers were 0-12; two years later, they won seven games. In Taggart's first season at South Florida, the Bulls finished 2-10; his final season, he went 10-2. Taggart improved Oregon from four wins to seven wins in year one, with the Ducks in position to double their previous total with an upcoming bowl victory.

An offensive innovator, Taggart has a track record of proven, up-tempo production. In his last 28 games as head coach, Taggart's teams have averaged 41.1 points per contest. In 2016, Taggart's South Florida offense scored five touchdowns and averaged 8.18 yards per play against Florida State, the highest single-game margin, including this fall, allowed by the Seminoles since the 2009 season.

Bolstered by deep state of Florida ties and a former player's perspective, Taggart, additionally, is a dynamic recruiter. Given that he will now be able to pair passion and proximity at Florida State, the expectations are that Taggart, like Bowden and Fisher before him, will only continue to bring elite talent to Tallahassee. With college football's first-ever early signing period starting on December 20th, and the Seminoles looking to make up for lost time, Taggart will hit the ground running.

Though most fans at Florida State simply haven't seen many coaching changes, there is widespread excitement and optimism around Taggart, his energy and his vision. Though Taggart will be the second-youngest head coach in the ACC, just weeks older than Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente, FSU will be his fourth head job; Taggart just led one of the nation's more prominent programs in Oregon. Even with his remaining upside, experience is an asset for Taggart.    

With long-time assistant Odell Haggins currently as the interim, Taggart also becomes the first full-time African-American head football coach of the Seminoles. 

Call it football fate, but time has led Taggart to Florida State. He has thought about this opportunity for some time, a position program history suggests he could hold for a kindred duration. Taggart is where he wants to be, with the Seminoles ready for a similar return.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports