Willie Taggart has a habit of adapting to his surroundings and making things work in whatever his current situation may be.
During his playing career, he was a productive but undersized quarterback who dreamed of playing at Florida State. Instead, he went on to have a prolific career at Western Kentucky.
Decades later as a coach, after rebuilding programs at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon, he’s now tasked with getting the Seminoles back to college football’s mountaintop.
The first evidence Seminoles fans have to go by in judging Taggart is his work with Florida State’s 2018 recruiting class.
The Seminoles’ recruiting efforts were stuck in neutral for months because of the rumors of the uncertain future surrounding former coach Jimbo Fisher. By the time Fisher left for Texas A&M and Taggart arrived, a class once perched in the top 10 of the 247Sports team rankings was a shell of itself.
After sinking as low as 64th nationally, Taggart helped the Seminoles finish on the cusp of the top 10 at No. 11 thanks to a furious close that saw he and his staff land 11 commitments since Jan. 13 — including five prospects that announced for Florida State on National Signing Day.
How did he do it?
The answer begins with identifying what makes Taggart successful as a recruiter.
How Willie Taggart got it done
Brandon Huffman is the National College Football Recruiting Editor for 247Sports and has covered recruiting for a number of years. The first trait he noticed with Taggart is a simple one that compares to the nation’s elite coaches.
Little more on Willie Taggert's impressive transition class at #FSU … #Noles have landed 4 #ESPN300 & 7 4-star's since Taggert arrived (not counting prospects already committed when he was hired) … Top 15 class moving on up … https://t.co/IQkTtYYPfw
— Gerry Hamilton (@HamiltonESPN) February 7, 2018
“I think probably more than most coaches, [Taggart] has taken such a hands-on role in recruiting himself,” Huffman said. “I think that stems from him being a part of the [Jim] Harbaugh coaching tree. Jim Harbaugh, outside of probably Urban Meyer and Nick Saban and maybe Dabo Swinney, he loves recruiting. He loves to get after it in recruiting. He’s aggressive in recruiting and very vocal and visible with it. I think that’s where Taggart kind of took the model from. He’s taken the approach that it can’t be just about his assistants and position coaches taking regions. With him, it’s ‘I’ve got to be involved.’”
Living in Seattle, Huffman had a great opportunity to watch Taggart’s reclamation project when he was tasked with rebuilding Oregon’s program a year ago.
Taggart was born and raised in Bradenton, Fla., but he’s adapted to wherever his path has taken him and has become an effective recruiter who can go into any state and attract talent to play for him.
Oregon finished the 2016 cycle with the nation’s No. 27 class. Despite arriving late in the 2017 cycle, he elevated the Ducks to the No. 19 spot to close out the 2017 class.
Before he took the Seminoles job, the Ducks spent a healthy portion of the 2018 cycle with the top class in the Pac-12 and a group rated among the nation’s top 10 until he departed for Tallahassee.
— Brandon Huffman (@BrandonHuffman) February 7, 2018
Ironically, Florida State’s 2018 class features four former Ducks commitments, including 4-star Seattle athlete Tre’Shaun Harrison — who picked the Seminoles on Signing Day over Oregon. Two more players from California also landed in the Seminoles class.
Huffman points out that Taggart’s time on Harbaugh’s staff as an assistant when his mentor was the coach at Stanford helped Taggart build ties to territories on the West Coast that have continued to pay dividends throughout his career.
“He got a little bit of the lay of the land out West,” Huffman said. “He knew where the hot spots were. He figured out where he needed to recruit and which schools had good talent and which schools have players that were willing to leave the area.”
Huffman said he expected Taggart to have success at Florida State because of his noted prowess as a recruiter and his relentless work ethic. But even he was shocked at how quickly he’s turned things around in Tallahassee.
Not only is #Tribe18 the highest-ranked class signed by a new coach, but @CoachTaggart and staff had just 7 early signees. You have to go all the way down to the 85th-ranked class to find a team with less signees entering yesterday #DoSomething pic.twitter.com/KhVhn0rMnk
— Derek Satterfield (@dsatt_) February 8, 2018
Seeing Taggart land players such as Harrison and 4-star Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco safety Jaiden Woodbey — a longtime Ohio State pledge who flipped to Florida State after landing an offer eight days before the early signing period — got Huffman’s attention.
“I think I was a little more surprised with how quickly he was able to do that. I think the magnitude of those kids he recruited from the West to go South, considering the other schools they were recruiting against and the geographical ties they had, that’s what surprised me to his success when you look at the big picture,” he said.
— BarstoolFSU (@FSU_Barstool) February 8, 2018
Stage is set for the future
Florida State’s 2018 class features players from six different states.
Nine of the 21 recruits are from the Sunshine State. Another seven are from Georgia. Those two states figure to make the majority of the Seminoles recruiting base moving forward.
But in going to states such as California, Maryland, Ohio and Washington, Taggart has proven that he can continue to keep the Seminoles recruiting on a national level in the years to come.
The Seminoles’ hot streak to close out the 2018 class began with a simple driving force: Taggart’s will to assemble the best possible class he could.
The early results are promising and have Seminoles fans excited about the future of the program under his guidance.
“I think he made himself very visible and where he did that well was during that quick turnaround from when he was hired to really get out on the road those last few weeks in December and then all of January, was being visible and being at high schools,” Huffman said. “That’s what he did really well. He made himself visible out there on the recruiting trail right from the get-go.”
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