COACH TAGGART: Thank you for being here, national signing day. This group that we signed really fit the culture we’re trying to bring. I think we brought in some really good football players, but not only good football players, good young men. Young men that’s coming from winning programs. Guys that understand how to win. I think, more importantly, guys that really wanted to be here. And consider all the negativity that was out there for those guys to stick with us and want to be here, I thought it said a lot about these young men and the kind of guys we want in here, the guys that will be mentally tough and be able to fight through things. But they also are really good football players. Clearly there are some guys that we want, we didn’t get. But that’s how it goes sometimes. But we really are excited about the ones that are with us. And we’re going to coach them up, develop them to help us build this football team back to where we all want it to be.
You mentioned football players, these guys you’re recruiting want to be football players. What questions do you ask these kids’ coaches to determine whether they have the right profile and fit the culture you want? COACH TAGGART: I think you can see a lot of it in the way they play, how they play the game and how they understand the game. I think when you talk with the coaches you speak on the character and what kind of guys they are, how important football is to them: Do they love it or do they like it? And, again, what’s this drive behind it? Is he highly motivated by it? Is he highly competitive? Is he a tough kid, not just physically but mentally? I think it’s more mental than anything. And I think that’s really key to understand when you are going after guys.
Address a little bit the elephant in the room, it’s the second straight year you haven’t had a quarterback sign out of high school. I guess the question is, is there a plan maybe for additions down the road or kind of what’s happening there? COACH TAGGART: Yeah, we have a plan, I think a pretty good plan. I don’t necessarily want to discuss it right now, but I think we’ve got a pretty good plan of where we want to go. We’ve had this plan in place and after today we executed it and we’ve got to continue to grow, be more adept at the position, obviously. I think when you look at the transport portal and the grad transfer portal, there’s always options for us. But I think it’s more important to get the right kind of guy especially at that position and not just go get anybody. And I think going through last year we’ve got to make sure that we get our guy and when it comes to getting a quarterback and making sure that he’s a team guy and just can’t be a certain guy because I think if anything that’s what hurt us — we invested in someone and we missed on them. So that’s on us and just have to make sure that don’t happen again.
On quarterback Jordan Travis, you got a transfer in and he’s in school now. What will his status be going into the fall? Is there waiting to see if you can get some kind of exemption where he’ll be eligible right away? COACH TAGGART: Yeah, I think we’re waiting to see if the waiver can go through, and I think right now until that happens just by rule he has to sit out. But waiver goes through and he’ll be able to participate.
To follow up on the quarterbacks, you had — Nolan McDonald is a guy you had as a walk-on. What kind of fall did he have and what did you see out of him? Is he an option? COACH TAGGART: I think with a lot of things we’re going to offensively, some of the things we do, it will help Nolan even more with just from his strength and what he brings to the table. I thought he did a great job for us this past season giving our defense a look on the ‘look’ team. And we have freshman scrimmages every week. And every week he was making plays for us out there. So I think he’s going to be an individual that’s hungry and excited about an opportunity and we’ll get a chance to see them out there this spring and see what he can bring to the table as well.
Coach, obviously the offensive line was a position of concern coming into the offseason. You signed four players and had a transfer in Ryan Roberts. How do you feel you addressed that need overall? COACH TAGGART: We feel like we did and with some really good football players. Keep saying that, but, again, guys with personality and play the game the way we’re wanting them to play the game. We feel like we got in here. We feel like we addressed some needs up front. And you got some high school guys that’s going to bring you some more depth to the offensive line. And getting a grad transfer with experience will also help us coming in and competing. I think that’s so important that we get the depth in here and not just depth but competitive depth, to where again each and every person knows that he’s got to come ready to go each week because he’s got a guy right behind him trying to make him better or trying to take his job.
You mentioned how this class’ ability to kind of deal with negativity stood out to you. With everything that’s been surrounding the team from the [Kendal] Briles hire to this past weekend, how have you seen them and the rest of the team and coaching staff respond? COACH TAGGART: Our guys have been great. Our players have been awesome since day one, since they’ve been back. They’ve come back with a different mentality, a different attitude. But they also understand what’s going on now. They’ve had a year here and understand the expectation. And guys are working as a team and holding each other accountable to going out there to get better. We always address whatever issue there is as a team, and make sure we also understand again what we’re doing and where we’re going and sometimes you make decisions not everybody is going to agree with it. That’s part of it. That’s the world we live in. We’ve got to stay locked into our vision and what we want to do. And you can’t get caught up in all the negative stuff or we won’t go anywhere. That’s going to be there. We put that there. It’s going to be there. We’ve got to change that; that’s on us. And our guys understand that and our recruits that we have here, they understand it, too. They want to be a part of the change. They want to change the coaching and get it back right and it will happen. But we’ve got to do that and we look forward to doing it.
Can you just talk about the recruitment process of Travis Jay and just how big it was that he stayed home and signed with you guys? COACH TAGGART: It was huge. A young man that’s been with us for over a year now, been committed to us. A phenomenal football player. I mean, he’s different. A really, really good football player and a really good basketball player, too. I watched him play the other night. It was, like, wow. But the kid is very talented. And I’m glad he’s with our football team and I’m glad he stayed here. And it’s important that we keep these young men here and especially with talent like that. To me, those are the guys that can help change a program and not only help change it but can help change it instantly. And we’re so excited that he’s with us. And can’t wait until he gets here.
How has the transfer portal changed recruiting as a whole as you approach and fix things with kind of quick fixes such as the offensive line and depth at quarterback? How does it change the dynamics from what it may have been 12 months ago? COACH TAGGART: You’ve always got to keep track of it daily. Each day you see someone different going into the portal. And you’ve got to make sure on a daily basis you keep track on your current roster and where you’re at and making sure you can fill those needs. I don’t think you just fill them just to fill them but you be strategic in how you fill them and make sure you do the research on the kids that are in the portal. And how is it different? It gives you something else that you’ve got to recruit towards and get information on, and making sure you bring the right young men into your program. And make sure they fit your needs, not necessarily as a quick fix, but for going forward because you’re seeing not only grad transfers now, you’ve seen guys as freshman that’s going to have years in there. You’ve got to be smart and making sure you’re on top of your roster and being creative with your roster management.
Your defensive back class as a whole, you signed a lot of guys, still out there. How pleased were you with what you’re able to bring in? And what’s your impression of some of those guys? COACH TAGGART: Really, really like our defensive back class. I think it’s one of the best that’s out there. Those guys are highly competitive. They all have a chip on their shoulder and they all think they’re the best. And I think you like that and they know they’ve got to come here and compete and they want to compete. But I put them up with anyone. I really like those guys and look forward to them coming here competing and developing and being the football players we know they can be.
With the transfer portal and you mentioned grad transfers, how do you go about explaining that to the guys that are, like specifically at quarterback with James Blackman? He sat last year. How do you go about explaining to him bringing a guy to compete for the job when he’s been here and paid his dues? COACH TAGGART: I think with our players, I think those guys understand when they come here it’s going to be competitive. You don’t come to Florida State if you’re not coming to compete. And we don’t want guys that don’t want to compete. But I think if you signed a scholarship to come here, you know what it is when you decide to come here. And I think James is one of those guys that not only understands that, he’s all about that. And I don’t think that he will turn down any competition. And I think he’ll welcome it and understanding that’s the way it is around here; that’s the way it should be. And James believes enough in himself. So he don’t have to worry about anything. So I don’t think that will be an issue, not only just with the quarterback position or any position, because that’s the culture that we want. Our guys understand that and that’s what we’re going to create.
With the announcement on Sunday about starting quarterback being dismissed, how much of that is a culture change, trying to change the culture here? COACH TAGGART: I think it’s a big part of that. We’re just doing what’s right. You always do what’s right and for me I always do what’s best for our football team. Like I told our guys, there’s no one individual bigger than our football team, including myself. And it’s always going to be what’s best for our football team and the decision I made. And our guys understood that and we’ve moved on. But I think that’s all part of culture changing and what we want to do. We’re going to do it the right way and live up to the standard that we’ve all set.
This is the biggest event since you hired Kendal Briles. What has he brought to you and how did you vet the Baylor situation to make sure this is the guy you wanted to bring in?
COACH TAGGART: I’ve known Kendal since I was at South Florida. Had an opportunity to go out there and hire some football from them. And changed our offense at South Florida. A lot of things we learned from them we did it at South Florida and it changed things for us. So I’ve been doing them and I had the offensive coordinator’s job open, and someone that does the things that we do very similar to what we do, someone who has had success everywhere he’s been and he’s done it well. And we talked with our AD and talked with our president, and our trustees, we all talked to the people we needed to at FAU and Houston and also Baylor and vetted it out and make sure it’s the right thing for Florida State University and it was.
You talked about the offensive linemen that you added a little bit. I wondered if you could go into specifics, Darius Washington, and I think you can talk about Ryan Roberts if he’s a grad transfer. If not, I apologize. And I think you had a third, I don’t know if you can talk about him either. I don’t want to get you in trouble. COACH TAGGART: You won’t get me in trouble. Trust me. I won’t do that. But Darius Washington, I think Darius, again, one of the big things for us getting back over in Pensacola area and getting young men out of there that again wanted to be here. He’s a really good, physical football player. And I know I can only imagine how he’s going to be once he gets here and starts training with our guys. But he’s a young man that has, I hate to use the word “potential,” but there’s a chance he can be really good here. And he wants to be really good. And I know he’s one of those individuals that’s going to do everything that the coach asks to help him become a better football player. But really excited about him. He’s a physical football player. He likes being physical. And he likes that up front.
One more quarterback question. Then a question about the kicker. Travis Jay, anybody that saw him play at Madison knows what an incredible athlete he is and he obviously played quarterback. Could he be in the plans of a backup, maybe an emergency type quarterback? COACH TAGGART: Could be. I think everything’s on the table. He could be. Again, that kid’s a freak. When I say freak, in a good way. He’s different. I don’t know if you all watched him play. Probably have. But he’s special. He can play anywhere on the football field for us. You’ll see a lot out of him. Probably see him doing a lot of different things for us.
What did you see out of the kicker? What was that recruitment like? A little different recruiting kickers, I understand. COACH TAGGART: Well, the kid is special. He’s got a strong leg. Really talented with the football not only as a kicker but as a punter and his skills on what he can do with the ball is at a top level. And, again, what I spoke of earlier trying to make this highly competitive around here, we needed to make sure we get someone in here with Ricky [Aguayo] and making sure they compete and making sure we’re that way at every position. And we’re excited about it. Ricky did a good job bringing him in here. He’s a winner. He comes from a winning football program. And another young man that really wanted to be here.
When you mentioned the negativity, was the biggest doses of that from media, social media, other teams? COACH TAGGART: I think it’s all of it. But that’s part of it. I think it’s a little bit of all of it. But we did that to ourselves. We didn’t have the season that we wanted and we know the standard here. We understand that and I thought our coaches did a good job of dealing with it. That’s part of it. And the only way that stops is for us to go out and take care of business. We understand that. We’ve got to work to make sure we can take care of business and decrease some of the negativity. It’s not going to all go away. It is what it is. But, again, we’ve got young men in here that believe in our vision and understand what we’re trying to build. And I think that’s more important than anything. And I think they’re going to help us get this football program back to where it needed to go.
You landed a pretty solid group of linebackers, and I know you probably wanted more. But three really good linebackers — Kevon Glenn, Jaleel McRae and Kalen DeLoach — but talk about the change. It seems like you’ve got bigger linebackers. These guys are huge, but talk about that group. COACH TAGGART: Not only do they have size, those guys are very athletic. And I think if you look at just the college football game, you’ve got to have some athletic linebackers that’s going to be able to have to cover receivers and also be able to tackle in space. And it’s so important that you get those guys that can run and move and change direction and be able to run with some receivers and tight ends. And I think if you look at each one of those guys, they’re very athletic and they’re also very physical, and you like that blend of physicality and being athletic.
Quashon Fuller is committed for almost two years, but Alabama made a run at him in the end. What was the recruitment of him like the past two weeks? COACH TAGGART: It’s been great. Quashon is an interesting young man. And, again, we always felt good. We also knew he was just like most kids. They want to go through the process. You can’t blame him necessarily for that. He really never made us feel any different or felt like we weren’t going to get him. He’s been good. We spent time down there with him last week and had a good time at school and at home. And had a good time when he came on his visit and it was good. Glad we have him. But, again, he’s a young man that wanted to be here. Like you said, he’s been committed to us forever. And it’s just hard when you’ve got kids that grow up and really want to be here, it is hard to flip them. But they’re the kind of guys that you want here.
Seemed like some schools really pressured kids to sign in December and seemed like you were more willing to let some of these guys kind of experience the process. How much tougher does it make — COACH TAGGART: I wouldn’t say I’m more willing –
Well it happened, but you kept most of them. COACH TAGGART: Well, I think some of that happened because of some of the negativity and some of the guys wanted to make sure on some things. Again, those are things that we did to ourselves and we had to deal with it. It would have been great to sign them all in December. And we didn’t. But I feel good about the close that we did on those guys that was with us and committed to us.
What excites you about [Kendal] Briles? Is it OC and a play caller? Will the dynamic between you and he be different than it was with Walt Bell, as in, will he get the keys to the offense? COACH TAGGART: Yeah, I brought him here to do what he’s been doing everywhere he’s been, and that’s scoring points and going fast and doing it. And that’s what we want. That’s why we brought him here is to do that. And we’re going to allow him to do that. So I’m excited about it. He’s done it everywhere he’s been. And I’m excited to see him do it with our guys. And I know our players are excited to get going with it as well. But for me, being comfortable and understanding, especially with the offense, I mean, we share the same values and philosophy about what we want to do. And that makes it a little easier and make you more confident in him. And he’s done it. He’s done it at the Power 5 level. And he’s done it, again, everywhere he’s been. So you know you can do it. Again, I’m confident and I know he’ll do a great job for us. And I’m looking forward to it.
When you have to dismiss a player like Deondre [Francois] and some of his issues, is there any help or assistance offered to a player like that moving forward, even after he’s dismissed from the team? COACH TAGGART: Absolutely. Deondre knows he can call me whenever. And if we can help him, we will. I don’t think you just leave him out to dry or anything like that, if that’s what — I don’t think you do that. And he knows if he needs anything he can call. And I know he’ll land on his feet somewhere. But like I said earlier in the statement, we’re moving forward.
We haven’t talked to you since Coach [Ron] Dugans came back. What did you like about him as an assistant before and why was it so important to bring him back? COACH TAGGART: I really like the way he developed our receivers as receivers and young men, just saw how they played for him and fought for him. I was always impressed. And I think being here, his passion for Florida State here and being the coach that he is and the energy that he coaches with and the way that he teaches, I thought it would be great for our guys.
You’ve already covered, I think, the quarterback options and the way you’re going to look at things, but as far as this class, 2019 high school, is that it as far as you having options or are there other options out there in 2019? COACH TAGGART: There’s always options. And they are open.