Florida State coach Willie Taggart’s opening statement after Saturday’s 45-44 overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe included coaching cliché that didn’t sit well with some of his fan base.
“It wasn't pretty, but our guys did find a way to get that W,” Taggart said. “And we're going to celebrate that win for 24 hours, and get back to work and get ready for Virginia next week on the road, conference game.”
Celebrate? What, exactly, was there to celebrate about squandering a three-touchdown lead and needing a missed extra point to beat a Group of Five team with one winning season this century?
What was especially interesting to me is how it differed from other brutal wins I’ve covered with other coaches.
Jim McElwain went off on his Gators after they needed a second-half rally to beat East Carolina by seven Game 2 of his tenure. McElwain blasted his team for its penalties and lack of discipline (sound familiar, FSU fans?), among other things and said the game was embarrassing not only to the program but to the administration and university.
“Look, the idea is to go ahead and win the game, right?” McElwain said. “We won the game. But that’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable. And you guys should be embarrassed having to write about it.”
I wasn’t, by the way. My game story turned out pretty well.
Charlie Strong was nowhere near as harsh as McElwain last year when USF needed a late touchdown run from Jordan Cronkrite to top East Carolina, but he wasn’t thrilled, either. He admitted that his offense struggled, suggested his team wasn’t fully focused and blamed himself and his coaching staff for not having his players prepared.
On the same night of Taggart’s news conference, UF coach Dan Mullen was so upset with his offensive line that he said a four-letter word I can’t write here during his halftime radio interview. His Gators were leading Tennessee-Martin 17-0.
Taggart wasn’t all positive Saturday, and he had some serious critiques in his weekly news conference Monday, too. But why such optimism in the immediate aftermath of the ULM win?
My theory: History shows that’s just who he is, especially when he’s trying to build (or rebuild) a program that has handled adversity poorly.
Go back to 2013 and his first win at USF. Taggart’s offense failed to score a touchdown in a 26-20 victory over Cincinnati. Taggart began his news conference with a song:
“‘It’s been a long time coming, but I know change will come,’” Taggart sang.
“Sure enough it came.”
Later, Taggart added: “Everybody's been down and out around here and the bus had the hazard lights on. Now the bus is moving a little bit now. That's great to see."
The next week, Taggart’s Bulls struggled at winless UConn and gave up 162 first-half rushing yards to the worst ground game in the nation. USF didn’t score an offensive touchdown that game, either, but still claimed a 13-10 win.
"Who would’ve thought when we were 0-4 we’d turn it around?’’ Taggart said. "I know some people didn’t think we could win a game (all season). Our guys stayed together and they’re playing for each other. It’s great to see.’’
Those were the only two games Taggart won that season.
The next year, Taggart’s team fell behind by 20 at Tulsa (which finished 2-10) before rallying for a 38-30 triumph. Taggart responded with more praise.
“I tell you what, it’s big-time for our guys…” Taggart said afterward. “Those guys believed the entire game, even when we were down there was always talk about the miracle of believing. Those guys played the entire game like we wanted them to for the entire year. I think we all, not just coaches and players, but the entire Bulls Nation should be proud of this football team and what these guys are doing. We’ve got to keep it going.
“The entire Bulls Nation, just believe in this football team. We’re going to get it right, we’re all going to be happy and we’re all going to make it the way it’s supposed to be.”