CHARLOTTE, N.C. – After more than 40 minutes of questions ranging from quarterbacks to culture to Clemson, Florida State coach Willie Taggart stood up from his podium, smiled and said to no one in particular:
“I love ACC Media Days. This is fun.”
Judging by the throng of reporters who surrounded Taggart Thursday morning, the feeling was mutual.
Florida State is typically a big draw at the annual ACC Football Kickoff (otherwise known as Media days), and this year was no different.
Actually, it was a lot different.
Taggart is the conference’s only new head coach for the 2018 season, and only the Seminoles’ third head coach since Bobby Bowden arrived at FSU in 1976.
So there was no shortage of attention paid to the new guy, many of which came from reporters meeting him for the first time.
“He handled it great,” said Andy Staples, who covers college football for Sports Illustrated. “What comes through with him, and it’s been like this since he got the job, is that this is a place where he always wanted to be.”
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) July 19, 2018
But whereas much of the last six months has focused on Taggart’s journey to Florida State, Taggart on Thursday sounded like a coach with a season opener that’s fast approaching.
He provided an update on the upcoming quarterback race between Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman (“We need a guy that can lead our entire football team.”), provided his thoughts on the hierarchy of the ACC (Clemson is “the team to beat. They’re at the mountaintop.”) and spent a little time looking ahead to the Seminoles’ Labor Day showdown with Virginia Tech, which, as of next Monday, will be only six weeks away.
“It sets the tempo if you win,” Taggart said. “It can set it if you lose, too.”
No matter the question, Taggart handled it with the same confident, calm demeanor that’s endeared him to so many Florida State fans since he took over in December.
Football, as Taggart reminded, is supposed to be fun. Talking about it can be pretty fun, too.
“It seems like he is who he is, all the time,” Staples said. “There’s no different Willie Taggart for when the tape recorders are on and the cameras are on.
“It seems like he’s Willie Taggart, 24-7.”
Whether that personality translates to championships remains to be seen, but the media in attendance seemed to believe the Seminole are on the right track.
Staples said that Taggart’s track record of rebuilding programs – he improved records at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon – as well his foundation in the state of Florida, should have FSU in for “a fun next few years.”
And David Hale, who covers the ACC for ESPN.com, believes that Taggart’s passion and fresh eye make him the right main to shore up any cracks in the program’s foundation.
“You have a fresh mentality, you have the talent and you bring a coach that puts people in position to succeed,” Hale said. “It doesn’t have to get significantly better than it was last year for (FSU) to be back in contention.
“The idea that Florida State fell off a cliff last year and is going to have to work its way back for any long period of time, I don’t buy into. This is still Florida State.”
And, for a little while longer, this is still the preseason. ACC Kickoff represents something of a football oasis in the heat of summer, with the start of fall camp just starting to creep over the horizon.
But by the time Taggart had finished his laps through ESPN, CBS, radio row and everyone else who wanted a small – or not so small – piece of his time, and boarded his plane back to Tallahassee, he had the same thought as virtually everyone else who attended ACC Kickoff.
Football is almost here.
Back in Tally.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) July 20, 2018
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s college football. We’re back in it. Everybody’s excited. This time of year is like Christmas.”