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Schoffel: FSU, Taggart must get proactive to battle negative perceptions

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Willie Taggart speaks with then-freshman Jaiden Woodbey during a 2018 practice. Woodbey is one of many charismatic young Seminoles who could help paint a more positive picture of Florida State Football.
Willie Taggart speaks with then-freshman Jaiden Woodbey during a 2018 practice. Woodbey is one of many charismatic young Seminoles who could help paint a more positive picture of Florida State Football. (Gene Williams/Warchant)

During his National Signing Day press conference last week, Florida State football coach Willie Taggart praised the 21 prospects who have signed with the Seminoles for sticking with their commitments despite widespread "negativity" surrounding the program.

He alluded to that issue several times during his 25-minute Q&A session and even mentioned it in his opening statement.

"Considering 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," Taggart said. "The guys that will be mentally tough and be able to fight through things."

As my esteemed colleague Corey Clark wrote last week, Taggart deserves credit for not blaming others for the negative perceptions about his program. The second-year coach correctly said it is up to him, his assistant coaches and players to do something about it. The message to his team was clear: If we want people to speak better about us, then we need to play better and coach better.

That's admirable. It would have been a terrible look if Taggart had walked up to the podium and began criticizing fans or the media for the Seminoles' problems. Other coaches have gone down that road, and it almost never ends well.

So that's the good news. Taggart is holding himself and his program accountable.

Here's the bad news: If the Seminoles' entire public relations plan is, "proving it on the field," then this is going to be a really long seven months.

Florida State will open the 2019 season against Boise State In Jacksonville on Aug. 31. That's 200 days from now.

Judging by what we have seen from the state and national media in recent weeks, that's time for several dozen articles, listicles and slideshows portraying Florida State and Taggart as the gang that couldn't shoot straight -- whether or not the facts support that position.

Just look through the headlines of the last week:

* An article on Sports Illustrated's web site listed Florida State as the top "loser' on National Signing Day, due largely to the Seminoles' inability to sign a quarterback. SI had the 'Noles listed "ahead" of programs like USC and Louisville, despite the fact that Taggart's class is ranked 15th by Rivals, while the Trojans' is 19th and Louisville's is tied for 89th. Among the "winners" listed were Miami and Maryland -- even though the Hurricanes' class ranked 35th and the Terrapins' was 73rd.

Now, you can make a case that this was a stupid list -- and I would wholeheartedly agree with you -- but the problem is it appeared on Sports Illustrated's website, and even in 2019, that will carry weight with casual fans.

* An article on CBS Sports' web site listed five coaches on the "hot seat" for 2019, and Willie Taggart was one of the five. Among the other coaches listed were Randy Edsall, Lovie Smith and Clay Helton. Now, I think it's HIGHLY unlikely that Taggart would be sent packing after next season for a variety of reasons. So this list isn't necessarily worth the 30 seconds it took to read it. But you can rest assured it will get traction because the writer works for CBS Sports.

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