Over the next few weeks, we'll be chatting with each ACC football coach to go over the highs and lows of 2017 and take a look at what's in store for spring practice and the season ahead.
Next up is the Florida State Seminoles' Willie Taggart, who takes over a 6-6 Florida State team searching for a new direction.
Q: It has been a whirlwind first couple months on the job, wrapping up recruiting and getting a handle on things. What has the experience been like?
A: It's been great. I've done this before. I'm a veteran when it comes to taking over programs now. When I'm through coaching, I might get into those search firms. But it's gone well. Recruiting, we finished strong. Our staff did a great job of coming in in a short amount of time and establishing a good recruiting class and getting the guys we needed to go where we're trying to go. Our coaches are coming together quick, and our players are seeing it. Now that we have an opportunity to get out with them, that's been great as well. And we're still undefeated.
Q: What was the morale level when you arrived?
A: When I got here, you could tell this football team was hurt and hurt from a lot of different perspectives. They lost the coach that brought them here, and they weren't necessarily too fond of that. And the way the season went, they weren't fond of that. That was not what they signed up for when the decided to come to Florida State. But they've been awesome with the buy-in. You see them smiling, happy and competing like we want them to, and [they] are starting to get over the things that went wrong. But for us, we try to preach to them that you have to understand the things that went wrong and make sure we correct those things.
Q: Having been through this at other schools, what's the point where you know, as a coach, that things are headed in the right direction and your culture is starting to take hold?
A: To be honest, it's when things turn around academically. Everywhere I've been, when it turns around from that standpoint, football and everything else became a lot easier for us. So that's a big focus on our football team right now. Every team I've taken over, one of the biggest issues is they didn't play for each other. A lot of selfish guys who didn't play like it was a gift to be teammates. To me, that's how it needs to be if you want to win at a high level. And playing for one another, you do everything you can to hold each other accountable. So putting all that together and understanding you can't hold anyone accountable unless you know 'em, a big part of our deal right now is getting to know each other better on a personal level.
Q: The way your staff closed on the recruiting trail impressed a lot of folks. What was the feedback you were getting from recruits?
A: Everyone was excited about what's going on. We finished the way we did, for one, because we spent time with one another as a staff out on the road. There wasn't one time where a coach went somewhere and didn't have another assistant with him. That was by plan. Our guys got out and got to know each other better, and I think that will really help with our football team. We've got to learn and understand each other so much better so we can hold each other accountable.
Q: How many of those incoming freshmen do you think have a chance to make an immediate impact? You've inherited a good bit of talent, too. Is there a real depth chart at all?
A: It's going to be a moving depth chart, that's for sure. Guys have to compete every day. I told our current team, my job was to go out and recruit guys to take their jobs, and it's on them to keep their jobs. And I told every recruit, it's on them to come take somebody's job. So our freshmen, they'll have an opportunity to come in and compete and try to earn a spot. You know, I've heard a lot about how we've recruited around here the last couple years, and there's no reason for us to be 6-6 if we've recruited that well. So it's important that we make this thing competitive again and get the best out of these kids. And the way we do that is to make it an open competition. If we go out and compete every day, we'll be close to where we want to be.
Q: How about at QB? What is Deondre Francois' injury status, and where does that competition with James Blackman stand?
A: I don't see those guys any different than anyone else on the team. It's a wide-open competition. Guys are going to have to go out and compete and show this new coaching staff they can lead this football team. That's the fair thing to do. The best guy will win it. That's what we want. We can all appreciate and be happy with who comes out of it because he'll have done what he needed to do to win the job. Francois is doing a great job in his rehab. He'll probably get some throwing in during spring ball, but he won't be 100 percent. But it'll be new for all of them. It's not like someone knows more than the other. They're learning together, which I think is awesome. I'm like everyone else: I'm ready to see who separates himself.
Q: When you came aboard, did you just say to your strength and nutrition folks, come up with a plan to put 30 pounds on James Blackman?
A: He's moving that direction. He's already gained about 13 pounds. He's still frail a little bit there, but he's a lot bigger than he was before. If we continue to do that, we'll get better.
Q: As you prep for spring practice, what are the key things you're looking to see?
A: It starts off the field, and I think guys are doing a great job so far. As spring ball comes around, I want our guys to understand our base principles of what we're trying to do offensively and defensively. We're not going to try to put the entire playbook in, but we want them to understand the base principles of what we're doing. It's really important that people understand that. If they know that, they can go out in the offseason and work on their own and know exactly how we do things. But it's about continuing learning -- players and coaches. But we're just trying to get 1 percent better every day.