The FSU defensive captain talked at length about the team quitting and how it will respond to this loss.
Curt Weiler, Tallahassee Democrat
Culture is an interesting dynamic that defines teams.
But what exactly is a winning culture?
It’s not jargon and clichés. There’s no substitute for accountability.
Florida State football coach Willie Taggart thinks is team is mentally weak. Even more insufferable, he also said he thought some of his players quit Saturday as No. 2 Clemson shellacked FSU 59-10. Taggart explained that’s part of the culture that must be rectified if FSU wants to regain its national prominence.
Taggart insists that change of culture is happening slowly but surely. He doesn’t think it’s going to take long for FSU to close the gap with Clemson. He said there are issues that need to be corrected, acknowledging “I think we all know that.” Once those issues are corrected, Taggart said, “I think you’ll see a big change in our entire program.”
Fans are wondering when?
They want and deserve hope for the future. How long does it take to rebuild a winning culture the right way? To get everyone thinking, feeling and acting the same way? Coaches control attitude, preparation and standards; players control effort. Ten of the Seminoles’ 17 losses since their undefeated national championship season in 2013 have come in the last 15 months.
Obviously, this proud program has issues.
Everyone gets it. A coaching transition takes time, patience and a long-term vision. Winning cultures are built on shared values. Taggart continues to point to the good things and progress made this season – even when it seems to be painfully and frustratingly slow. As a friend told me, however, this is not about painting lollipops and rainbows because it sure does look like FSU’s season may get worse before it gets better.
That’s what is chilling.
Clemson has won its last three games by margins of 60, 34 and 49 points and is the ACC’s measuring stick. The Tigers knocked the stuffing, snot and spirit out of the Seminoles. FSU competed for one quarter until adversity hit, and then wilted across the board. Some players quit, as Taggart said. And quarterback Deondre Francois was hit hard and often before he left late in the game injured.
What doesn’t bode well is that FSU has the toughest remaining schedule in the nation. Alarmingly, the Seminoles also continue to repeat mistakes. They lack discipline. They still don’t handle adversity and commitment very well. And their schemes, specifically offensively where tempo and the run game alleviates defensive pressure, need work and a spark.
Taggart and staff must own it.
Residual impacts are just as disquieting.
Ticket renewals dipped heading into this season despite an attractive home schedule, combined with Taggart’s charismatic optimism when hired. Saturday’s game drew 68,402 fans, many of whom skedaddled at halftime. A photograph of a shirtless Seminole fan – he happened to be an FSU professor – reading his book on the empty top row of the stadium in the third quarter went viral.
Average home attendance may fall below 70,000 at season’s end for the first time in at least three decades. Next year’s home schedule lacks this year’s appeal. The athletics budget and wise spending practices are built on revenue generated by winning football.
Taggart speaks of a lack of mental strength with his team. That can be boggling at this level, but it’s real. For most of us, mental strength is a learned developmental behavior. However, as local best-selling author and motivational speaker Don Yaeger pointed out Sunday, the mental strength Taggart is “talking about is best built within players and an environment that places a high value on accountability.”
Yaeger has spent his career studying greatness and high-performers. He explained it’s not enough to say, “‘We need to play better” or ‘We need to coach better.” Yaeger said what has to happen is that players, including leaders, must know the price to be paid “for violating the ethos that is declared. And they have to know that the price will also be paid by the person to their left or right.”
FSU needs to start paying the piper. While culture doesn’t guarantee winning, it’s critical to a program’s overall success. My goodness, FSU was a 10-win team two seasons ago. It even won its final four games last year, despite a lack of commitment and eventual departure of its head coach.
The Clemson debacle was embarrassing and worrisome. Is the gap between the programs due to talent? Five of FSU’s last six recruiting classes were ranked No. 3 nationally by 247Sports. Is it coaching? A quickly-targeted Taggart is in his first season of a six-year, $30 million deal and was given $5.5 million to distribute to staff.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney gave Taggart a vote of confidence, saying “Willie will get it going here. It’s hard, this is a tough time for them from a transition standpoint. This is one of those moments that you probably just burn the tape and go onto the next one and continue to stay focused and believing in who you are and what your plan and vision is going forward.”
Taggart, a cool customer, said FSU must keep climbing, working and recruiting. He says he will continue to evaluate his program and make the necessary changes.
“If they can’t do it, then we need to make sure that someone else is in there that can do it,” Taggart said.