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Willie Taggart Named Florida State Head Football Coach

What this means for the Hurricanes and Noles

Oregon v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Florida State Seminoles opened up their coaching search for the first time in forty years. The name they chose was Oregon’s head coach Willie Taggart. Taggart is a known recruiter and offensive mind around the country. Taggart was in the process of bringing a top 5 recruiting class to Eugene when he took the FSU job. His impact on the Seminoles recruiting class will be immediate, as will his impact on their offense. What remains to be seen is who he can bring in as defensive coordinator. If Jim Leavitt does comes to Tally, the ‘Noles defense will be vastly improved right away.


Willie Taggart at QB for WKU

History

Willie Taggart was born and raised in Bradenton, Florida. Taggart is a local legend in the Tampa area. He then signed to play football for Jack Harbaugh, the patriarch of the Harbaugh coaching family, at Western Kentucky University. While at WKU, Taggart took the Hilltoppers to the NCAA 1-AA playoffs while winning 26 games as the starting quarterback.

Taggart started coaching at WKU in 1999 and stayed there through 2006 in a variety of roles. At WKU, he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers while serving as co-Offensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach. Taggart then left WKU and headed to Stanford to coach running backs and work for Jack’s son Jim Harbaugh. When the WKU job opened after David Elson guided the team to an 0-12 record, Taggart returned as head football coach of the Hilltoppers.

Taggart has been the leader of turnarounds three times and looks to make it a fourth at FSU. At WKU he took the 0-12 Hilltoppers and finished his last two years 14-10. With the USF Bulls back on the west coast of Florida, he took over a 3-9 squad and finished up 18-7 before taking the Oregon job. With the Ducks, he took over a 4-8 squad and went 7-5 in 2017 before taking the FSU position. The Seminoles have doubled his salary from a little over $2.5 million and are paying Taggart $5 million a year.

Taggart, much like Jim Harbaugh, is a “quarterback guy.” At USF he groomed Quinton Flowers. Flowers threw for 5,000 yards and 46 touchdowns under Taggart, and added 2600 yards and 21 more touchdown passes under Charlie Strong in 2017. In a year at Oregon, sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 1,750 yards and 13 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. Herbert added another 5 touchdowns on the ground. The Ducks finished 7-5 in Taggart’s only year in Eugene but were 6-1 with Herbert and 1-4 while he was out with a collarbone injury.


Recruiting

Taggart comes to Tallahassee known as a top recruiter. He and Mario Cristobal recruited in a good class to Eugene for 2017 and were building a great class for 2018 before the rumors broke about Taggart and the ‘Noles. After four decommits, Oregon has slipped down to 9th, but at one time they sat inside the top 5 for 2018 recruiting classes. If Mario Cristobal can recover, the Ducks will move back into the top 5. The knock on the Helfrich era at Oregon was poor recruiting and the Ducks last class under Helfrich dipped to 27th. Taggart picked up the 2017 class to 19th in ‘17.

The Seminoles hadn’t had trouble collecting talent in Tallahassee under Jimbo Fisher, but the transition hurt the ‘Noles. Taggart can rebuild this but his current reputation for lying to Oregon players and recruits could hurt his “win on signing day” mentality until he proves he’ll be at FSU for more than a year or two. The real question is how much will he attempt to swing the Ducks ‘18 recruits? Do the Armwood High School (Florida) kids, Malcolm Lamar and Warren Thompson, stay committed to Oregon without Willie? Does Arizona quarterback Tyler Shough?


Offensive Scheme

Willie Taggart’s offense molds itself to the talent he has around. At Oregon, he had an accurate passer with some mobility in Justin Herbert, a big back with speed in Royce Freeman, and speedy receivers. Taggart used the H-Back position, with no 27 Jacob Breeland. Breeland played a variable role as a fullback, a winged tight end and a slot. Expect Taggart though to mold his scheme to the talent. FSU hasn’t utilized tight ends in some time, but Tre’ McKitty and Ryan Izzo could find more enhanced roles under Taggart.

Taggart will find a way to use Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick at the same time. Patrick isn’t as fast or accomplished as Royce Freeman, but Taggart has proven he likes a big back to take the work load. Akers can work in the slot or out of the backfield and the wide zone running play Taggart used against the Beavers this year could explode with someone of Akers’ ability.

The big questions will be if Deondre Francois can recover to full health and who Taggart likes better between Francois and rising sophomore James Blackman. Francois is a good quarterback and threw for 3000+ yards and 20 touchdowns on over 8 yards per attempt as a redshirt freshman. Francois will have to limit mistakes in order to be a quarterback for Taggart.

Taggart isn’t locked into a defensive scheme at all. At USF they ran a 4-2-5 under Raymond Woodie and his Ducks team ran a 3-4 under Jim Leavitt. If Leavitt comes to Tally expect the 3-4 to follow. If he doesn’t, Taggart will let his defensive coordinator hire run the defense they are most comfortable with- which is great coaching.

The results of Taggart’s hire at 6-6 FSU won’t be known for three years or so, but he has had immediate positive impact everywhere he’s gone. If Taggart can stick around long enough to coach, and win a bowl game, maybe he can have a legacy in Tallahassee.