TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart is making his mark on the Florida State football program, in ways both obvious and subtle.
Taggart’s mark on the FSU practice fields, however, is impossible to miss.
On the eve of his first practice of any kind as FSU’s new head coach, grounds crews were adorning the Albert J. Dunlap practice fields with three oversized banners, each of them bearing one of Taggart’s favorite phrases: “Do Something,” “Blame No One,” and “Make No Excuses.”
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 20, 2018
No matter where the Seminoles are on the practice fields, it will be virtually impossible for them not to see at least one of those mantras.
“Those words, I personally think that’s pretty much all you need – with a work ethic – in order to be successful,” Taggart said Monday. “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”
All three phrases are essentially Taggart’s shorthand for themes of personal responsibility. And creating a culture of personal responsibility might be Taggart’s top priority at Florida State, both this spring and beyond.
“It’s important to all young people that you instill accountability,” he said. “They don’t know, and it’s not right for us to assume that they know. And you’re just trying to help them grow as young people as they get older.
“We all know that those things are critical in being successful – being accountable and disciplined in what you do.”
As it applies to the football fields, that means a player not blaming a coach for his spot on the depth chart, a receiver not blaming a dropped pass on a bad throw, or a defender not blaming a missed assignment on a teammate.
“It’s on you,” Taggart said. “Don’t make excuses for anything … I want our players to have that mindset.”
That process might be easier if Taggart were dealing exclusively with freshmen, or players who weren’t used to another way of doing things.
But the nature of Taggart’s position demands that he transforms the mindset of sophomores, juniors and seniors who over the last few months have seen a host of changes around the program.
Soon after navigating a difficult regular season, Florida State’s players saw an upheaval in their coaching staff, saw a number of teammates transfer, graduate or leave for the NFL draft, and saw a host of familiar details throughout FSU’s football facilities changed to reflect the new era.
Although it made for a lot of change in a short amount of time, Taggart said that the team’s veterans have been receptive to his message, and that it’s common to see a player stop by the his office just to chat – whether it be about football or something else.
“I want it to be like father-son,” he said. “We go in and recruit these guys and take them away from their parents and families and say we’re going to take care of them. And that’s what we want to be able to do. And also, we want to be their coaches, be their mentors and help those guys meet their goals and aspirations.
“You do that by holding them accountable.”
There’s that word again.
Off-field accountability has been ongoing since Taggart took the job in December.
On-field accountability begins Wednesday, when the Seminoles hit the practice fields with a new schedule – weekday sessions will start at 9 a.m. – and a new playbook on each side of the ball.
“This,” Taggart said, “is when it gets interesting.”
The Seminoles won’t don full pads for another few days, but Taggart said these first practices will set the tone for what’s to come.
Players can expect a fast pace – “I don’t like a lot of standing around” – and an emphasis on playing loose, then cleaning up mistakes later in the film room.
“We’ve got to learn to practice like pros,” he said. “This is the first time a lot of guys will be going through the type of practice that we have. I’m sure there will be some mistakes, but we want to limit those as much as we can. …
“We’ll see how the first day is. The second day, we want to be much better than that.”
As for Taggart’s offense, he said that installation can be done in relatively quick fashion.
Mastering it, however, will take time. And he doesn’t expect the Seminoles to have it all down by the Garnet and Gold Game on April 14.
Rather than get lost in complexities, Taggart said he’ll focus on big-picture schemes – what he wants to do and why he wants to do it.
If the Seminoles have a handle on that by the end of the spring, their coach will be a happy man.
“When spring ball is over with, on offense, defense and special teams, we want to be able to say we’re good at something,” Taggart said. “And then we can build off of that.”