WATCH: One-on-one with head coach Willie Taggart
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State coach Willie Taggart sat down with Seminoles.com to take a lap around the football program and preview his upcoming second spring in Tallahassee. Practice starts Monday morning, and the Seminoles’ 15 allotted sessions will conclude on April 6 at the Garnet and Gold Spring Game. Taggart’s topics included his thoughts on his new assistant coaches, his quarterbacks and his plans for fans to get a look at the team over the next few weeks.
Here are highlights from the conversation:
‘One heck of a spring’: Safe to say that Taggart has the itch. It’s been more than three months since the Seminoles concluded their 2018 campaign. Which means three months since the last game, last practice and last of any kind of football-related activities.
So, above all else, Taggart is anxious to simply get back at it. And that’s before factoring in his and the team’s desire to wash away the memory of last season.
Even better, the signs that Taggart has seen from his group since the season ended – their commitment to bettering themselves in voluntary activities, in the classroom and in “The Chase” offseason conditioning – have him especially upbeat.
“Seeing the work our guys have put in the last two months has been very impressive,” he said. “If we make the improvement like we did in those areas on the football field this spring, we’re going to be alright. …
“And I think, with our team’s attitude right now and the way we’re working, I think we’re going to have one heck of a spring.”
As for Taggart’s top priorities, the head coach doesn’t feel the need to get too particular:
“We want to get better as a football team, overall,” he said.
That means sharpening details, focusing on problem areas from a year ago and, above all else, creating competitive depth.
Taggart mentioned the latter concept several times in his 10-minute interview. Simple human nature suggests that a player is more likely to perform well when he has to fight for his place on the depth chart every day. And, whether due to injuries or ineffectiveness, the Seminoles last season were often missing that dynamic at several positions.
Redshirt sophomore James Blackman, for example, may be the only quarterback in the room with in-game experience, but for him to go unchallenged over the next eight months wouldn’t do much good for him or the rest of the team.
“After going through last season and getting guys injured and not having that competitive depth, we’ve got to do a great job of creating that and getting that within our entire football team,” Taggart said. “And especially at the quarterback position. …
“That’s going to be very important this spring.”
‘Everybody knows what to expect now’: A year ago, the Seminoles were on the verge of a foundation-shaking transition. They had just been through a trying 2017 season, saw their head coach leave for another job and were about to begin life under an almost completely new coaching staff that would bring about a completely different way of doing things.
Florida State had to crawl before it could walk last spring, and time spent learning the basics of the hurry-up, no-huddle was time that couldn’t be spent refining the details that can make the difference between winning and losing in the ACC.
Fast-forward 12 months, and Taggart believes that the Seminoles could be in for a dramatic step forward for one simple reason:
“Everybody knows what to expect now,” he said. “When you know what to expect and what’s coming, you tend to be able to plan ahead and be able to execute the things we want done a lot better.”
For the Seminoles, that means a better understanding of the playbook, a better understanding of what it takes to play at Taggart’s preferred tempo, and even a better understanding of each other.
The change is already apparent in Round 2 of “The Chase,” and Taggart expects it to carry over to the practice fields next week.
“You can see the difference,” he said. “Just in the way we go out and go about doing business.”
New staff make for welcome additions: Florida State’s offensive staff will feature three new faces that are both fresh and familiar at the same time.
Receivers coach Ron Dugans is of course a former FSU receiver, but he’s also a former colleague of Taggart’s, having served on Taggart’s staff at South Florida in 2014 and 2015.
And Taggart has kept tabs on offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and offensive line coach Randy Clements ever since meeting the two while visiting Baylor a few years ago.
The concepts shared on that visit would later on become the foundation of Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense” at USF.
No wonder, then, that Taggart thought Briles a natural fit to take the reins in Tallahassee.
“There was always a thought to one day if you have an opportunity, to try to get him on my staff,” Taggart said. “Got a chance to do that now, and I’m excited to see him go to work.”
Same goes for Clements, a 29-year veteran who has known Briles as a youngster, as a prep football player, as a college quarterback and, most recently, as a bright, young coach.
Taggart believes that having a coordinator and line coach speaking the same language will do wonders for the players.
“It’s so important that, as a coordinator, you have someone at the offensive line position that you understand and know,” he said. “To make the transition seamlessly with our players, to where they’re on the same page when it comes to run and pass.
“Those guys worked together for a while. I had a chance to meet Coach Clements when we went out to Baylor as well. Thought it would be a good fit for our team and a good, seamless transition.”
As for Dugans, Taggart simply recalled the impact the Tallahassee native made on USF’s receivers and wanted more of the same.
“I knew who Coach Dugans was as a player, as a coach and as a mentor,” Taggart said. “In what we’re trying to build here and the culture we’re trying to have here, I couldn’t find a better person that understood me and what I wanted done to come in here and help us get there.”
Defense’s next step? Maximize talent: Taggart isn’t shying away from his team’s defensive performances last year. Specifically that the Seminoles started strong and showed positive flashes but overall weren’t consistent or productive enough – especially by the end of the season.
Taggart has two simple fixes in mind. The first is to ensure that the coaches have every player in the right position to take full advantage of his abilities, whether it’s a defensive lineman, linebacker or defensive back.
The second is for the players themselves to rise to the occasion and, armed with confidence that they’re in the right position, go out and simply make plays.
“We want to be better at everything we’re doing,” Taggart said. “We started out strong in the beginning of the season and didn’t finish the way that we needed to.
“We want to see more execution. We want to make sure we put more guys in the right position to make plays. And we want to see our guys make the plays we know they are capable of making.”
Preview of coming attractions: Like any other college football fan, Taggart understands that talk can be cheap at this time of year. So he has a message for any skeptical Seminoles in Tallahassee and beyond:
Come see for yourself.
Taggart announced Thursday that Florida State’s first two spring practices – on Monday, March 4, and Tuesday, March 6 – will be fully open to the public.
After that, the Seminoles will hunker down and march full speed ahead toward the Garnet and Gold Game.
“We’re going to open the first two practices for everyone to come out and watch our guys, then we’re going to go to work,” Taggart said. “We’re going to close the rest of the practices and focus on us and focus on getting better as a football team with no distractions, and making sure that, when we come out and play on April 6 for the spring game, we’re showing the improvements we need to make as a football team.”