TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Before he’d even spoken his first word to them, the players on the Florida State football gave their new head coach a standing ovation.
By the time Willie Taggart had finished his address, which lasted about 30 minutes, the Seminoles were feeling even more enthusiastic about the program’s new leader.
“A lot of energy in the room, a lot of guys excited,” junior running back Jacques Patrick said. “It’s a new way, you know? There’s always excitement when new things are around.”
“We’re just happy for him to come in here,” sophomore cornerback Levonta Taylor added, “and bring some swag to the program.”
Taggart’s message touched on a variety of topics, including how he grew up rooting for the Seminoles and hoping as a child to one day play for them. Taggart also shared a few of the trials and tribulations of his own life – his father, John, passed away earlier this year – and laid out the expectations that each player must meet moving forward.
In his introductory press conference last week, Taggart told reporters that FSU football players must be great athletes and great students, while having great character.
Standards are high, but the Seminoles said that Taggart’s direct style resonated with them.
“He was just being real with us,” Taylor said. “He cares about other things (than football) – schoolwork, his players, getting to know them. Just the little things.”
“A lot of the same things we were able to go through, he went through,” Patrick said. “He understands those things. He’s a very upbeat guy. Kind of a new generation. He understands it. And that’s the biggest thing – as long as you understand the people around you, you’ll never have a problem.”
Taggart has made an impression on more than just his players.
While former coach Jimbo Fisher is now at Texas A&M, many of his FSU assistants have remained to help the Seminoles prepare for their Independence Bowl matchup against Southern Mississippi on Dec. 27 (1:30 p.m.).
Since arriving in Tallahassee, Taggart has hit the recruiting trail with interim coach Odell Haggins, offensive line coach Rick Trickett and passing game coordinator Lawrence Dawsey.
“To be honest with you, hey, Coach Taggart is a great guy, man,” Haggins said. “He’s fun to be around.
“(Last week), I was on the road with him recruiting. Had a great time with him, man. It’s been great, knowing that you’ve got somebody here that’s diving in, that this is his dream school.”
Now that Taggart has made his first impression on the Seminoles, they’ve got a chance to make theirs with him.
Although he intends to spend much of the next few weeks recruiting, Taggart said he’ll also be around Tallahassee evaluating players and coaches alike.
Some members of Fisher’s staff have joined him at Texas A&M, and others have been linked to openings around the country. But Taggart allowed that if a coach from the previous staff aligns with his vision for the future, then he could stay at Florida State.
“We’re in a unique situation,” Taggart said. “We still have coaches here. I get a chance to evaluate those guys and see if any of those guys are going to be a great fit to be a part of the staff as we go forward.”
Speaking of forward, the Seminoles all say that that’s where they’ve turned their focus.
Haggins even recently asked that a reporter rephrase a question that made reference to “last Friday” – the day Fisher announced that he was leaving – because he preferred to focus on what lies ahead.
That Friday and its aftermath hit the Seminoles hard. They were all recruited by Fisher, and, after watching him turn down overtures from other schools in recent years, figured he’d be there to see through their careers.
Things, however, got better fast. It started with the Seminoles’ 42-10 thrashing of ULM that Saturday, an emotional victory that clinched bowl eligibility and cemented Haggins’ hero status within the program.
The good vibes continued early into the week, when reports started to swirl that Taggart would leave Oregon for FSU, and then spilled over into applause when the Seminoles’ new head coach met his team early Wednesday morning.
It marked the end of a rollercoaster week, but the Seminoles were happy with the way the ride ended.
“At first, we felt down, but we’re back up again,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas. “We’re happy with what we received. …
“Everybody’s just ready to move forward and start playing football again.”