Photo: Willie Taggart
Willie Taggart inherently generated renewed enthusiasm in Tallahassee as Florida State’s new football coach. It goes with the business, especially with former coach Jimbo Fisher having alienated fans during a disappointing 7-6 season.
Fisher, you'll recall, got in a shouting match with one fan halfway through the season while leaving the Doak Campbell Stadium after a loss to Louisville dropped the Seminoles' record to 2-4.
But Taggart brought more than new energy to campus for last weekend’s spring game that drew 60,934 fans to Doak Campbell with his arrival on the sidelines. Taggart demonstrated some early play calling ability when he invited Bobby Bowden, the now 88-year-old retired coach who built Florida State into a football power, to attend.
The fans loved it.
“Unbelievable showing out of our crowd,” Taggart said on an ACC conference call. “It was a really nice environment to be around. We had a lot of former players back which was pretty cool to see, over 300 back on campus. Have having Coach Bowden back and hearing the crowd cheer for him was really awesome for me personally.”
Fisher led the Seminoles to the 2014 national championship, but in some ways he never quite fit in upon his arrival in 2007 as Bowden’s offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting.
First of all, Bowden had to be nudged and ultimately pushed into retirement by the Florida State administration. He had back-to-back 7-6 seasons in 2006 and 2007 before a 9-4 bounce back in 2008 and a drop back to 7-6 in 2009. He turned 80 at the end of the 2009 season.
So Fisher wasn’t fully embraced under those circumstances.
Despite the national title, Fisher's tenure unraveled from there. There were repeated problems with player discipline off the field, most notably with sexual assault charges against quarterback Jameis Winston.
By 2017, Florida State was struggling on the field when rumors surfaced Fisher was interested in taking the Texas A&M job. The Seminoles dipped to 5-6 and finished 7-6 under an interim coach once Fisher took the A&M job.
Taggart understood the Florida State climate dating to Bowden’s early years, even though he’s a Western Kentucky alumnus. He grew up a Florida State fan in Bradenton, Fla. He used that background to spend time in the off-season engaging with fans through events and social media.
Taggart heard some criticism when he left Oregon after only one year to take the Florida State job. but the former Western Kentucky and South Florida coach has said he wouldn’t have left Oregon for any other job.
“We have so much tradition here,” Taggart said. “Coming back, I didn't feel it as much. I didn't feel we were really connected like we needed to be. So we tried to put emphasis on just getting everyone back involved, people that built the program and made it to what it is today, and let them know we appreciate it. I think it's important that our football team understand those people that came before them as well. They're a big reason why they decided to come to Florida State.”
Taggart has quickly taken charge of the program atmosphere, but that’s not all. The 2018 schedule has him quickly jumping into the ACC fire.
The Seminoles open the season against Virginia Tech in a Monday night game on Sept. 3 at Doak Campbell.
Look for Bowden to be in attendance and energy to be present at that game, too.
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