Yes, Taggart is good enough for the FSU job

by Gary Shelton on December 6, 2017 · 0 comments

in College Sports in Florida, Florida State University, USF

Taggart made football matter again at USF. /ANDREW J. KRAMER

Taggart made football matter again at USF. /ANDREW J. KRAMER

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

At the time, it seemed like a good question. Heck, at the time, it seemed like the only question.

"Willie, are you good enough for this job?" I asked.

For once, I wasn't trying to be a wise guy. Given what we had just seen, it was the question on everyone's mind. Willie Taggart, for the first time, had led his USF Bulls onto the field, and they had given up half-a-hundred to mighty McNeese State. It was ugly, it was embarrassing, and it made you tremble at the thought of the games to come.

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Taggart should be able to recruit well at FSU./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Taggart should be able to recruit well at FSU./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Not to be unkind, but on that night, Taggart looked small compared to the job ahead of him. He seemed to be in over his head. You wonder how many fans were willing to call Skip Holtz back.

The season before, McNeese State had lost to Southeastern Louisiana, Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State and the University of Texas-San Antonio. But McNeese scored like a pinball machine in a  53-21 win over an utterly talentless USF team, which would somehow win two whole games that year. The Bulls lost their first four games, and they lost their last six.

So, yeah. I wondered. I doubted. I questioned.

Are you good enough?

In the long run, of course, we know the answer. Once Taggart improved the talent on his roster, he was plenty good enough. He won only six games in his first two seasons, and then he won eight. His fourth year, he won 11. Funny how that works. As he added Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack and Rodney Adams, he grew smarter by the year. And suddenly, there were rockets attached to his career. Taggart was going places in a hurry.

And now, he has come almost full circle. He is about to be named to the FSU football job.

And you ask: Is the job good enough?

It's going to be something to see with Dan Mullen and Taggart taking over at Florida and FSU at the same time. They'll recruit like the blazes against each other. They'll bring offenses to their jobs. They'll infuse both schools with new energy.

Look, for a small college, for any college, improvement is a hard sell. Over the years, a program can get stuck in the mud. But Taggart has a chance. He now has a job that will get him into the living rooms of top-notch recruits. He has the good smile, the natural ease at being around people. He'll recruit. He'll win.

Here's a hoot. In the last 365 days, Taggart has had three head coaching jobs: USF, Oregon and FSU.

Oh, I'm sure there are FSU fans who wonder today. Taggart's first year at Oregon wasn't exactly a run for the roses. And his first three seasons at USF weren't bragging material. Even at Western Kentucky, his record was just okay.

Fans being fans, I'm sure some fans would be more comfortable if he had 3-4 11-win seasons, and a big bowl victory, and an upset of Alabama or LSU, and a Heisman winning player. But then it would have been easy, right. I'm more impressed with a brick-by-brick assembly of a coaching job.

If you look inside the job Taggart did at USF, the way he made it a place for recruits to look at again, then it isn't a surprise that he landed the FSU job. It'll be a surprise if he doesn't flourish with it.

If you go back to that first year, it is clear now how little talent Taggart had. But he never blamed the lack of talent. He talked about getting mentally tougher. Probably, he'll say many of the same things at FSU.

At USF, there were problems to overcome. Not enough tradition. Not enough history. Not enough prestige. And no, not enough talent.

But Taggart never flinched. Steadily, he got better. We saw Willie when he had less talent than anyone. And we saw him build until he had more. By the time he left, he had all of us skeptics nodding our heads. Here's a feeling that he'll do it again.

Now Taggart has control over a team whose fanbase expects them to be good. Immediately. It's the deep water of college coaching. There are no excuses. There are no alibis. You expect Willie to stand toe-to-toe with Dabo, and with Richt, and with Mullen. You expect him to start off in Jimbo's shadows and slowly lead his team into the spotlight.

It's odd. I read reports out of Oregon Tuesday night. The general tone seemed to be that Oregon got played by allowing Taggart to leave (not that Oregon had any shame in poaching him from USF) by making his buyout too small. Oregon was in love with Taggart's recruiting, but not so much his game strategies. It talked about Willie the nomad who has qualified for four bowl games but has coached in only one of them.

But FSU isn't a job that will come open regularly. This might have been Taggart's only shot at it. That has be factored in, too. Taggart wasn't in the Lewis and Clark party; he owes nothing to the great Northwest.

As for Taggart, I suspect that he expects his team to be good, too. Now. Confidence was never among Taggart's problem, no matter how bad the beginning was.

He'll be fine.

His program will be, too.


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