Photo: Willie Taggart
CHARLOTTE, NC. -- Florida State’s Willie Taggart said something at the ACC Kickoff that showed he’s a lot like the rest of us. The Seminoles’ new coach had a low opinion of the program based on decades of off-field headlines.
“To be honest with you, I thought I was going to come here and have a bunch of turds, and we don't,” Taggart said. “We have a bunch of really good young men that want to be great. They have some big dreams and some big goals, and that’s the reason why they came to Florida State. And to get around them and get to know them a little better, you can see that there are a lot of good kids here that want to do well. That gets you fired up as a coach.”
Right or wrong, Florida State’s labels under previous head coaches Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher were well-earned. Taggert can be for Florida State what Bob Stoops was rehabilitating Oklahoma's Barry Switzer-led renegade image.
,In the 1990s, then-Florida coach Steve Spurrier called FSU ‘Free Shoes University,’ which was a not so subtle explanation for the Seminoles’ top-ranked recruiting classes.
More recently, Jameis Winston’s NFL suspension for allegedly sexually assaulting a women Uber driver reminded us of his Florida State days. He was investigated for sexual assault while on his way to winning a Heisman Trophy and national title. He was cleared in that case, but later he was suspended one game in 2014; he stood on a table at the student union while yelling profane remarks and mimicking an Internet video. This time there were plenty of witnesses.
But Winston’s wasn’t alone.
A year later running back Dalvin Cook was suspended indefinitely in July 2015 after altercation involving a teammate and woman. A month later freshman quarterback recruit DeÁndre Johnson was dismissed from the team for hitting a woman in a bar -- before school started.
And in 2017, Fisher didn’t help the program’s heedless image. In what turned out to be his final season, he responded angrily to a Seminoles fan while leaving the field after a home loss.
But while Taggart may think like the rest of us, he’s much different as a veteran head coach; he’s climbed the ladder from jobs at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon before his new job in Tallahassee. Taggart, coming off a no drama off-season, is able to start with the group he inherited without worrying about clearing bad apples from the locker room.
“I haven't had to dismiss anybody off the football team, and that says a lot about our players,” Taggart said. “Guys want to be there and want to be a part of the culture that we're trying to create. So for me it was very gratifying that I didn't have to do any of those things.
“It gets you excited every single day to get up to help these guys because they want it really bad. And they're showing it by the way they train, and they're showing it by the way they're going to class and by the way they're changing their ways academically and socially. I can't wait until training camp and then the season to show how much they've changed when it comes to football.”
One of the two players Taggart brought to the ACC Kickoff was junior defensive end Brian Burns. He acknowledged Florida State’s image to overcome but added this is a group that lay a foundation.
“It is kind of frustrating people think that way, but everybody is entitled to their opinion,” Burns said. “They don’t know about this team. I think we’ve got good guys on this team. I don’t see any turds or screw-ups. They’re my brothers. I’ll stand up for them.”
Burns was joined by running back Cam Akers as the Seminoles’ two representatives. Taggart, when asked about his choices, said he didn’t have to put much thought into it when asked to pick two players.
“They were probably the last two guys I saw that day and had a great conversation with them,” he said laughing, “No …”
Then he added, “They have been standup guys for us. They've done everything we've asked them to do. They are exactly what we need when it comes to leadership and guys that represent our football program. We have plenty of guys, but we're told we could only bring two, and that's tough to do. But I don't think anybody would second-guess the guys we brought here today.
“They're guys that when you describe Florida State University and playing for Florida State, these two guys are the type of guys you want in the program. They came here to win a championship, and they know what it's all about to be here and what it represents. I'm happy with the guys we brought here.
“To be honest with you, I could have brought any of our players and been happy with them, considering the work they've done this off-season and the things they've done since I've been here.”
Reshaping Florida State’s image will be a bigger turnaround than bouncing back from last year’s 7-6 record.”
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