Photo: FAU football

When the NCAA canceled the men’s basketball tournament and the NBA suspended its season because of the coronavirus, Florida Atlantic head coach Willie Taggart had a feeling that spring football would likely be next.

“I think once the NCAA canceled March Madness and the NBA canceled, I think you kind of had a good idea of where things were going then. I had a feeling that was going to happen,” Taggart said in a conference call Monday. “Excited [that] spring ball was coming back once we came back from spring break, and then all of that happened.”

While some programs got time to install game plans and build personal relationships before the shutdown of spring practice across the country, Florida Atlantic head coach Willie Taggart and his coaching staff were not able to get any work on the field. The lack of on-field experience, combined with this being Taggart’s first year in Boca Raton, has presented a difficult challenge for Taggart and his staff.

“Whenever you’re taking over a program, you really don’t know what you have until you get out on the football field,” Taggart said. “You go through the meetings and get on the field and see how much your guys can retain and actually go out and execute, and you have a better feel for your team. Not only that from a football standpoint but continue to build relationships and get to know your team. That’s all part of it and that part has been taken away.”

Making Adjustments

In an attempt to install a game plan and keep in touch with his players, Taggart and his staff have utilized the popular meeting app, Zoom.

“We’ve used Zoom… to really install our [game plans] from a football standpoint, offensively, defensively and special teams,” Taggart said. “We’ve used that over the last couple weeks and it’s been pretty good. We’ve been getting good attendance on there and our guys are doing a great job of asking questions.”

To install the game plan and build relationships with the players, Taggart and his staff have continued to maintain constant communication with the players.

“Our coaches are in constant communication with our players. Every staff meeting, I have our coaches go around the table and make sure my guys fill me in on their position group, any new updates on what’s going on,” Taggart said. “We try to figure out what’s going on with our players every two days and make sure there are no changes or anything.”

A Focus on the Classroom

Along with keeping in touch with players on the football side of things, Taggart and his staff have had more contact with the team’s academic staff while players take classes online for the rest of the semester.

“We do Zoom with our academic staff twice a week. When we’re in school, we usually meet with our academic advisors once a week but since we’re out and our players aren’t here, we meet twice just so, again, our coaches are staying up on what our guys and doing and where they’re at and what needs to be done,” Taggart explained. “I think it takes a little more extra effort from us as coaches to be involved with our kids at this time because they don’t have the tutors right there with them and, unfortunately, some kids don’t even have computers”

Although the move to online classes can hurt a player’s academics, Taggart says his players have done a good job keeping up with their academics.

“Our players understand,” Taggart said. “They love football and we constantly talk to them that you don’t want to put yourself in a position to when we come back, you can’t play football because you had to take care of your business.”

Although the return home can present a challenging task for some players maintaining their football shape, Taggart says his strength and conditioning coach Joey Guarascio has done a great job using Zoom to make sure player’s stick to their routines.

“Our strength coach [Joey Guaracscio] gets on Zoom with our guys and kind of talk about the workouts that they are going to do that day and just trust that our guys go out and get it done,” Taggart said. “Very well-attended when they get on there and coach Joey gets on there and talks about the program and what they are going to do that day.”