Taggart makes favorable first impression with FSU players

Willie Taggart does the Seminole chop in front of Doak Campbell Stadium before being introduced as Florida State University's new NCAA college football coach in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Odell Haggins is Florida State’s interim coach for the Independence Bowl, but he left no doubt on Friday that Willie Taggart is leading the program.

”Let’s get this straight. We’re not sharing duties. He is the head coach,” Haggins said on Friday as the Seminoles held their first bowl practice. ”He’s directing me and talking to me about certain things. He has been a head coach and I haven’t. I’m going to listen to him and so far it has been great.”

Taggart was introduced as the Seminoles’ new coach on Wednesday, less than a week after Jimbo Fisher resigned to go to Texas A&M.

On Thursday, both Taggart and Haggins were out recruiting, with the early signing period less than two weeks away.

Haggins and players have had a favorable early impression of Taggart, who returns to Florida after a season at Oregon. The 41-year old Bradenton native grew up as a Seminoles fan and said he wanted to get back to the days of Charlie Ward, Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks when he held his news conference and then spoke to fans during an appearance at Wednesday’s men’s basketball game.

Sophomore cornerback Levonta Taylor said Taggart made an instant connection when he met with the team on Wednesday morning.

”The vibe that he brought in and his character. Just seeing the videos of him doing the Seminole chop everywhere and saying we’re going to wear different uniform combinations. Everybody was happy,” he said. ”I thought it was actually going to take more time. He was obviously the No. 1 target and they just went hard to go get him.”

While there is still some uncertainty about who might be kept among the current coaching staff – Haggins, who has been on FSU’s staff since 1994, declined to comment on whether he has been approached by Taggart about staying – players are happy to focus on a fresh start and an upcoming bowl game.

”At first, we felt down. But then it’s like we’re back up again. We’re happy with what we received,” defensive tackle DeMarcus Christmas said. ”Everybody is just ready to move forward and start playing football again.”

While Taggart is out recruiting players and building his coaching staff, it is Haggins’ job to keep the team focused on preparing for final exams and getting ready for the bowl game against Southern Mississippi on Dec. 27.

Florida State, which won three straight games to finish the season 6-6 and become bowl eligible, needs a win to avoid its first losing record since 1976.

Haggins said the first two practices will concentrate on special teams before they start game planning for Southern Mississippi once players are finished with finals.

”You look at the history of bowl games, it is lost on special teams due to the layoff,” he said. ”We’re going to prepare for the bowl game by practicing hard and having fun.”

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