Opinion: Why Willie Taggart may not last at FAU
In the last three years, newly hired Florida Atlantic head coach Willie Taggart was at Oregon for one season in 2017, before departing for the Florida State Seminoles where he held a record of 9-12 between 2018 and 2019.
This ultimately led to Taggart being fired last month from what he referred to as his “dream job,” of coaching the Seminoles after posting consecutive losing seasons for the first time at FSU since the 1974 and 1975 seasons.
Now, Taggart has big shoes to fill, as he takes over an FAU team coming off of two Conference USA Championship victories in the last three years that were led by new Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin.
Although he stressed being with the Owls for the “long haul,” in a meeting with the players and other coaches on Dec. 11, as well as settling down in Boca Raton with his family after his introductory press conference on Dec. 12, let’s be honest: those shoes won’t be filled for long.
Before receiving the job at FAU, Kiffin was the offensive coordinator of Alabama from 2014 to 2016, which is apart of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) that his new school, Ole Miss, is in too. With this in mind, Kiffin couldn’t wait to coach in a “Power 5 Conference,” that includes the SEC, again and the same can be expected of Taggart, as Oregon and Florida State are both in “power 5 conferences” too.
In comparison to Florida State, Taggart’s contract with FAU will also be much less, which could also play a role in an early exit. His contract with the Owls currently stands at $750,000 annually for three years, but there could be incentives for winning the C-USA Championship, going to a bowl game, and finishing in the national top-25 rankings, among many others. Taggart was supposed to receive $5 million annually for 6 years at FSU, but received a buyout of $18 million when he was fired.
While money shouldn’t be a problem for Taggart with Boca’s lifestyle, recruiting and retaining current players on the team could be. Unlike his predecessor, Taggart doesn’t have the experience of coaching in the National Football League and sending multiple players to the NFL Draft annually, despite being a native of Bradenton, Fla., and having success in the past with recruiting in Florida.
As Kiffin has accumulated almost 500,000 followers on Twitter, his larger than average social media presence also helped FAU gain national attention that increased fan attendance at games and even inspired new catchphrases, like “Come to the faU” and “All aboard the Lane Train” to be born. This not only helped his popularity as a coach, but the popularity of his players to be looked at by NFL scouts. Specifically seen with former running back Devin Singletary, Kiffin’s unique offensive strategies put Singletary in position to lead the country with 33 touchdowns in 2017 that ended up in C-USA Championship victory and ultimately helped him become drafted by the Buffalo Bills this past April. Singletary eventually earned the starting running back role for the Bills and Kiffin’s leadership created not only a new image for the team, but for FAU as a whole.
Taggart being lured to FAU and current tight end Harrison Bryant being named as the Mackey Award winner for the nation’s best tight end are just two examples of FAU’s changing image. Sure, the potential for Taggart to add to that changing image by hanging up more C-USA championship banners and sending more players to the NFL is there, but he will need the support of anyone and everyone, especially since he has over 400,000 Twitter followers less than Kiffin.
With the current FAU football team being led by defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, as he was named interim head coach when Kiffin resigned on Saturday, Dec. 10, Taggart will have to watch the team from the stands of FAU Stadium, as the Owls will take on Southern Methodist University (SMU) in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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