FSU hire of Taggart a significant step for Black coaches
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
One of the few moments that Willie Taggart paused during his high-energy introduction as FSU’s new football coach came when he was asked about being the first Black to coach the Seminoles.
He admitted that he hadn’t given much thought to the fact that he’s made history at FSU.
“For the most part, anywhere I go I’m probably going to be the first African-American coach,” said Taggart, 41. “I do understand my role and I know a lot of people are counting on me to do well.”
Taggart’s hire makes FSU the only Football Bowl Series program with a football coach, men’s basketball coach (Leonard Hamilton) and an athletic director (Stan Wilcox) who are all Black. Five years ago, Stanford was the only other BCS athletic program to accomplish the feat. Johnny Dawkins has since lost the basketball job, leaving them with just a Black AD and football coach.
According to a recent study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, 87.5 percent of the 128 BCS head football coaches were White. The racial divide has been getting the attention of groups such as the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development that was formed in 2015.
“We need to make progress in all walks of life,” said Hamilton, who was the first Black coach at every program where he’s been. “Diversity is not only needed in sports. It’s needed in our society as well.
“There needs to be more conversation, brought out to the forefront and in some areas of our society we seem to address it a little faster.”
FSU’s hiring of Taggart is much bigger than it may seem now, Hamilton said.
“This is a significant step,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll open the door for some other people to have that consideration.”
The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development has asked the NCAA to adopt a version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires that teams interview at least one Black for coaching openings.
The institute’s founder, Richard Lapchick, has been pushing to have the NCAA’s version named the “Eddie Robinson Rule.” Robinson is the legendary former coach at Grambling.
While Taggart’s hire is being applauded by advocates for more Black coaches, FSU president John Thrasher said race wasn’t a factor.
“We went after what we thought was the best coach and we got what I thought was the best coach for Florida State University,” Thrasher said. “I’m proud of Willie Taggart, I’m proud of his background. He is a great, great individual.”
Not only did Taggart become the first Black coach, he is the first hire of a football coach in more than 40 years for the program. He replaces Jimbo Fisher who abruptly left FSU to take a similar position at Texas A&M.
Taggart’s six-year deal with FSU will pay him $5 million annually, while he will have to spread out $5.5 million to pay assistant coaches. FSU will be responsible for Taggart’s $3 million buyout at Oregon, as well as $1.3 million still owed to USF for his departure to Oregon last year.
Taggart said he grew up as a Seminoles fan and wanted to play football at Florida State. However, he went to Western Kentucky. Later he coached his alma mater, then spent four years at USF. This past season he went to Oregon, where he was turning around the program when FSU called.
But the legacy he establishes at FSU will be special, he said.
“It can’t be about what we have done. It’s got to be about where we are going now,” Taggart said. “We understand those expectations and we’ve got to live up to those expectations.”
Wilcox, who founded the Minority Opportunity Athletics Association, expressed confidence that Taggart could keep FSU in the upper echelon of college football.
“We knew that Willie would rise to the top because of his passion about Florida State and the same vision that I have for the athletic department,” said Wilcox, who also is a former president of the Black Coaches Association. “The fact that he is an African-American is the icing on the cake.”