Florida State hired Florida native Willie Taggart to be its 10th full-time head football coach on Dec. 5, 2017. Taggart is considered one of the best offensive minds in the country and has already proven to be a relentless and effective recruiter.
Taggart returned to the Sunshine State, where he was the head coach at the University of South Florida from 2013-16, after one season as head coach at the University of Oregon. He began his head coaching career at his alma mater, Western Kentucky University, from 2010-12 after serving as an assistant from 1999-2006. Between his tenures at Western Kentucky, he was an assistant coach at Stanford from 2007-09.
Taggart has led remarkable turnarounds at each of his three previous head coaching positions. In the season prior to his hire, the programs Taggart inherited were a combined 7-29, and the best team he took over before arriving at FSU was a 4-8 Oregon squad. His overall record is 47-50, including a 25-12 mark since the start of the 2015 season. In that same timespan, his offenses have the fourth-highest points-per-game average among FBS head coaches behind only Mike Gundy, Kliff Kingsbury and Urban Meyer.
Taggart jumped out to a hot start at Oregon, leading the Ducks to a 77-21 win in his first game in Eugene. The point total tied for the highest in the NCAA in 2017, was Oregon’s highest since 1916 and included a school-record nine rushing touchdowns. The offensive fireworks continued as Oregon scored 42 first-half points in each of the first three games of the season, marking the first time in school history the program scored at least 42 points in one half in three straight games. The Ducks began the season 5-1 and completed the regular season with another offensive explosion, defeating rival Oregon State 69-10 for the team’s seventh 40-point offensive output of the season.
Oregon ranked in the top 30 in the NCAA in 15 different statistical categories, including boasting the 12th-best rushing offense in the country rushing for 251.0 yards per game and the 18th-highest scoring offense averaging 36.0 points per game. On defense, the Ducks ranked 24th in the country in third-down defense allowing a .333 conversion percentage and 27th in fourth-down defense at .417. The defense had one of the best performances of the season against Arizona’s Khalil Tate, who ranked seventh in the NCAA with an average of 128.3 rushing yards per game, holding him to only 32 yards rushing in a 48-28 victory.
Showcased by Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense, running back Royce Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and ranked 10th in the country with an average of 122.9 rushing yards per game in 2017. His rushing total allowed him to break the program record for career rushing yards with 5,621 yards, the sixth-highest total in NCAA history. Freeman was a third-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2018 NFL Draft and led a group of four former Taggart pupils selected. The 2018 NFL Draft marked the fourth straight year at least three former Taggart players were taken.
Taggart returned home to the Tampa Bay area prior to the 2013 season to take over a South Florida team that won three games in 2012 and turned the Bulls into one of the most exciting programs in the country by 2016. In his final year at the helm in Tampa, Taggart led South Florida to a 10-2 record and No. 25 ranking in the final regular season poll, the team’s first ranking since 2011 and only the second time in program history the Bulls were ranked at the end of the regular season. His offense averaged 43.6 points per game, ranking seventh in the country, and was fifth in the nation averaging 291.8 rushing yards per game. The 2016 season also marked the first time since 2010 the Bulls qualified for back-to-back bowl games.
With Taggart serving as the primary play caller, his offense broke 33 program records in 2016, including scoring, total touchdowns, total yards, rushing yards, yards per play, yards per rush and points per game. Quarterback Quinton Flowers was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after becoming the first USF player to post 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season, highlighting a program-record 10 all-conference selections.
Taggart helped build the offensive juggernaut with the top-ranked recruiting classes in the AAC in both 2014 and 2015. He also oversaw a vast improvement in the classroom while at USF, which improved its Graduation Success Rate in each of his four seasons and boasted a program-record 38 academic all-conference honorees in 2015.
His first head coaching job was one of the most difficult reclamation projects in the country, taking over his alma mater that had lost 20 games in a row. He quickly led Western Kentucky to its first two winning seasons since transitioning from FCS to FBS and in 2012 saw the program reach its first bowl game. The Hilltoppers had a 12-2 stretch from Oct. 2011 through Oct. 2012 with their only two losses coming to No.1-ranked LSU and top-ranked Alabama. Taggart again made a splash in recruiting as he signed the top class in the Sun Belt in 2010 and 2011.
Prior to being named head coach at WKU, Taggart was the running backs coach at Stanford, where he helped tutor 2009 Doak Walker Award winner, Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American Toby Gerhart. That year, Gerhart’s average of 144.7 rushing yards per game helped the Cardinal rank second in the Pac-10 and 11th in the nation with 224.3 yards per game on the ground and break the school’s single-season rushing record that had stood for 60 years with 2,481 total yards. The team also led the Pac-10 in total offense with an average of 441.4 yards per game.
Taggart’s time as an assistant at Western Kentucky started in 1999 as wide receivers coach before shifting to coach quarterbacks in 2000, a position group he continued to coach for the rest of his time at WKU. He added co-offensive coordinator duties for the 2001 and 2002 seasons and served as assistant head coach for his final four years.
Taggart helped direct an offense that set school records with 432 points, 5,749 yards of total offense and 263 first downs on the way to the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national championship. That season, the Hilltoppers ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency and sixth in rushing yards per game. The offense saved its best performances for the playoffs, where it averaged 38.8 points per game in the four postseason wins.
Under Taggart’s guidance from 2003-06, quarterback Justin Haddix set school records with 8,890 yards of total offense, a 57.1 completion percentage, 50 touchdowns and a 137.28 pass efficiency rating. Haddix also ranked second in program history with 541 completions and 7,929 passing yards.
Taggart transitioned to coaching after authoring a playing career that ranks among the best in WKU history. He was the program’s starting quarterback all four years and broke 11 school records, highlighted by his 47 rushing touchdowns, and left school holding the NCAA Division I record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He also ranked second in program history with 286 points, a 127.71 pass efficiency rating and 3,997 rushing yards and tied for third with 17 100-yard rushing games and for fourth with 30 touchdown passes.
Taggart was recruited to Western Kentucky following a prep career at Bradenton’s Manatee High School. There, he led the Hurricanes to a 5A state title as a junior and was a first-team all-state and all-conference selection as a senior after directing Manatee to the state championship game for the second straight year. He earned his bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Western Kentucky in 1998.
Taggart and his wife, Taneshia, have two sons, Willie Jr. and Jackson, and one daughter, Morgan.