Schoffel: Judging FSU Football under Taggart not a cut-and-dry case
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- In the days leading up to Florida State's game Saturday night at Virginia, I had a couple of conversations about FSU football that made me take a step back and reflect on the way fans and media have evaluated Willie Taggart's first two seasons as head coach.
Well, one was a conversation. The other was a lengthy email from an old friend.
The message from both was the same -- it's not fair to make a firm judgment about Taggart's tenure this quickly, when you consider the state of the program he inherited and the challenges he is still facing on a daily basis.
These are not comments we haven't heard before. But because I respect both of these people a great deal, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what they had to say.
One of them -- a current assistant coach for another Florida State men's program -- made one particular point that really stuck with me. He said observers aren't being realistic when estimating how long it takes a new coach to earn total buy-in from a team of players that he didn't recruit.
As someone who has been a head coach before, and who inherited another coach's troubled roster, his point was that it's incredibly difficult to know whether the players are really on board with a new regime. Often times, he said, the players will tell a new coach what he wants to hear. They'll appease him and assure him that they are going to follow his lead. And then as soon as he turns his back, they'll undermine his authority because he is not the coach they originally signed to play for.
The coach said that challenge is difficult for any new coach to handle, but it's exponentially tougher when a program is in disarray, the way Florida State's was when Jimbo Fisher left following the 2017 season. And he believes that is why FSU supporters need to give Taggart more time -- time to cycle out more of the players who aren't buying in, and time to fill the roster with his own hand-picked Seminoles.
Now, I’m sure many of you just rolled your eyes when reading that. You’ll point to other programs where the turnaround has happened much quicker -- maybe in the first year, but definitely by the second.
And for the most part, I would tend to agree with you. No matter how bad things were when he took over, I still think Taggart made a tactical error by trying to embrace these players and win them over with kindness in his first year. I think he misread the situation and asked that the players respect him, instead of demanding that they do it.
And I believe that's part of the reason Taggart is still battling discipline issues with this team after 21 months on the job. It's why the players commit so many silly penalties during games, and why the coaches have had to punish several veteran players in recent weeks:
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