Head coach Willie Taggart, defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett, and offensive coordinator Walt Bell spoke Sunday. Here are the full transcripts courtesy of ASAP Sports, plus the full audio.
Any inconsistencies or errors in the transcripts are via ASAP Sports. They have not been edited by Tomahawk Nation.
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome. Glad to see you all again. Where’s the juice? No juice -- it’s football season. You guys have been waiting on this.
Excited. Training camp. Excited to the guys back. The guys have been doing a really good job this off-season and I’m really excited to see the work they put in this off-season. You know, our coaches are fired up. Have a big-time meeting tonight. Looking forward to that.
But just seeing the guys get back on campus, seeing the smiles and the excitement, you know it’s football season, and our guys understand the work that we have in front of us, and they look forward to the challenges that they have in front of us.
But we all are happy to be back. We’re really excited to be back around you all. Time for some interesting stories.
Q. How about the incoming signing class, is everybody able to report and will everybody be eligible?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: We have everybody -- actually, two guys won’t be here and one won’t be here probably towards the end part of the week, Xavier Peters. He’ll be here toward the end part of this week.
Then Tre’Shaun Harrison, he will be here tomorrow evening. He’s here -- he was here but he had to go back home for a family emergency and he’ll be back here tomorrow evening.
Q. Obviously the news this week, Coach [Mickey] Andrews coming back to help out as a special assistant. How did that come about and what are you expecting to see out of that role?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I got a chance to meet Coach Andrews since I’ve been back here. Again, grew up watching the defenses, kind of like you all have, and understand how important this program is to him.
I know for me personally, ever since I’ve become a head football coach, I know it’s great to have someone like that that’s been here. He’s seen it all and have a lot of knowledge of the game. He have a lot of knowledge of Florida State. I think he’s someone that not only myself, but our entire staff can learn something from while he’s here.
I think he’s going to be great to be around our football team.
Q. Quarterbacks, might as well ask you about that. If we use a track or race metaphor, are all three of these quarterbacks at the same point in your eyes in the race to win that job?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Absolutely. They are all going to have an opportunity. They all understand that. That starts now. We’re in training camp now and those guys understand they have got to go out and perform each and every day.
And it’s not only the quarterback position. At other positions, as well, they are going to be created every single day. So you’ll see that depth chart move around a little bit if guys have bad days.
They know what it’s going to take. They know they got to separate themselves and again, like I told you guys before, I’m looking forward to seeing who separate themselves.
Q. The off-campus practice, what are the advantages of taking the team to an off-practice site? Coach [Jim] Harbaugh has done that. What have you learned from him with that same experience?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I wouldn’t say I necessarily learned from him because I haven’t done it with him before, but I know when he did it before when I was at South Florida.
I think it just goes to what we’re trying to -- we’re going to say that throughout the season when we go to opposing teams’ places. But going somewhere and getting the team unity and coming together, not just players but coaches and all, I think is really important for our football team and looking forward to it.
Q. You said there’s going to be a lot of competition across the depth chart. Are there any positions in particular that stand out to you?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Honestly, you might think I’m full of it, but all of the positions. It’s really important that we create an environment where it’s competitive and guys at every single position have to come ready to practice every single day. Again, it’s tough to come to practice every single day and compete at a high level when you don’t have competition at it.
But I know when guys have a chance to compete for a job, that’s what our program is built on, competition, and it’s going to always be that way. I think every position now -- guys know that. It’s been that way since spring ball. It’s, again, on our players to separate themselves and make it a no-brainer that they be the guy.
The beauty is, we have plenty of guys to compete. So that’s the fun part of it is that we have guys that can compete and can earn a job, and our players know that.
Q. Just going back to the quarterbacks for a second. How has Deondre [Francois] been since spring practices and just with the off-field incidents that he had?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: He’s been doing everything we asked him to do. Since his incidents, he’s done the things we’ve asked him to do. He’s handled the consequences that he had, and he’s moved back on campus, he’s around his teammates. He’s at every work out. He’s doing the things we asked him to do and all those guys are.
You talk about winning the team, I don’t think that’s just happened over the summer. I think that’s still part of the process, not him, but all those guys, Blackman and Hockman, to win the entire team over, that’s still a process, a work-in-progress.
They are all doing a good job. Now, it’s being able to win the team over doing those things, but all winning them over by making plays on the football field, and now they get an opportunity to do that starting tomorrow.
Q. As far as moving him back on campus, was that something you suggested or something he did on his own?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: That’s something he wanted to do.
I think he realized, again, how important that is, after we constantly talk about how important it is that he win his teammates back and he be the guy that the guys want to play for. I think that’s so important for whomever plays the quarterback position, is they got to get the guys around them want to play for them, and it’s hard to do that if you’re not around the guys.
But you see them all the time, the guys joking and laughing. It’s a great sight to see for me personally to see those guys around each other and laughing and joking because that’s what we want.
Q. Does the foundation that you laid in the spring maybe allow you to approach this group of practices differently and maybe not spend as much time on the basics of what you want to do?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Well, I think it helps us understand what we’re doing better. You know, I’m looking forward to these practices being a lot sharper than what they were in the spring.
You know, looking forward to our guys going out and executing things and not have to do a lot of re-dos. But we are going to go through some of the same things we went through the spring.
I think it’s important that we go over those same things again so our guys can, again, have a great understanding of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and probably the most important thing is why we do it.
You know, we’re re-learning from spring ball over again, and we think that’s going to help our guys understand what we’re doing a lot better, and then again, our freshmen, they can learn from what we did in the spring.
Q. Is there a date you want to have a decision made by for the quarterback or will you wait till final practice?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, I’d like to have one -- I’d like to have it decided before Labor Day. That’s the plan.
But again, we haven’t set no time, no date or time. I think our players got the date and time, you know, when they decide to separate themselves and make it a no-brainer, is when we’ll make that decision.
So it’s going to be pretty cool to watch them go do their thing.
Q. When did you first -- it’s awkward because he’s in the room, but when did you first hear of [offensive coordinator] Walt Bell, and what made the ultimate decision for you to hire him?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: When I first heard of Walt Bell, I think it was the first game of the season. I was able to watch that game, and they [Maryland] played Texas. Watched what they did -- unfortunately lost his quarterbacks, but watched what they did against Texas was pretty interesting, and not only to watch that but to see some of the same things we were doing was pretty cool.
So when it came time to hire the offensive coordinator, just try to find some similarities, someone that’s similar to the things that we’re doing, someone that believe in what we’re doing and someone that really want to be here.
You know, and probably the most important thing for me is someone that was going to be a great mentor to our quarterbacks and to our offense, and got on the phone with Walt, chatted with Walt, really impressed with Walt.
And came down and interviewed, and think we all -- whoever was in the room -- I don’t think we had our entire staff there yet. But whoever was in the room, I think we all was impressed with him and felt like he’ll be a good fit for what we were doing.
Q. How did the dynamic work in the spring? What will his role be?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: He’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. He’s coordinating the offense and making sure things mesh together.
Walt and I work really close throughout the week and making sure we’re on the same page with things. He helps the rest of the offensive coaches, the things they have got to make done, to make sure he can coordinate everything and go right the way that we want it to, but he’s coordinating and making sure everything is in place and making sure the plays that I like to call, they are on there, we practice them and we do it the way we want to do it.
And then on Saturdays, I’m going to call the plays. And I’m sure there will be times, “Walt, I need a play.”
And Walt, “Got ya, Coach.”
There will be a time, “Hey, give me one of your best running plays.” He’s going to give it to me.
There’s going to be a lot of times where I lean heavily on those guys calling plays. I think that’s part of it, too. These guys work tirelessly all week long, we all do, and there’s times where I might get stuck on a series and need a play.
So I’m going to lean on those guys then. I think when you’re running the offense and there’s an up-tempo, it’s tough to have a lot of voices because of calling it and the tempo standpoint.
I need somebody. I lean on those guys.
Q. You talked about Mickey Andrews already, but with Frank Beamer and Bobby Bowden coming back as honorary captains, how important is it to keep those guys close and integrate them into what you’re doing every day?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Those guys made Florida State what it is today and why we all are crazy about Florida State is the work that they put in. I think it’s important for our players to understand that. You think about these guys, a lot of them wasn’t even born when we were doing some of those things.
So it’s really important for me, for our guys, to understand guys that came before them, the coaches that came before them and guys that kind of made it to what it is today. I think when they understand that, then it means more to them when they wake up in the morning to come represent Florida State university.
They understand there’s a standard and there’s a way that you’re supposed to be, and I need our football team to understand that. I think having guys that’s around and done it and was a part of it was a good way to doing that, and I think they deserve it.
Q. Do they know how big Mickey Andrews was when you made that announcement?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I don’t think our players necessarily know as much. I think the parents know, and I think some of the parents let them know.
I will tell you this: When by the time we get through training camp, our players are going to know a lot more about Florida State universe city and they are going to know a lot more about our past and the guys that came before them, because each night, they are going to learn something different and they are going to learn something, again, about guys that came before them.
That’s important to me, and it’s a perfect time during training camp that they learn that and understand that. Being a Nole is special, and so we’ve got to make sure we keep continuing to make it special.
Q. We last saw your team in the spring, a little thin on the offensive line. How is that unit health-wise right now?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: My man, Derrick Kelly, a little banged up a little bit but he’ll be back. He’ll probably be limited here as we start off.
But everyone else will be out there practicing and ready to go, and I can’t wait to see some of these guys. Didn’t get a chance to see them in the spring.
Really, really excited about that, and I’m really excited to see how much improvement of the guys that practiced in the spring, how much improvement they made. I think that’s really important is that those guys continued to get better, as well, and as we go through training camp, it’s going to be crucial that we develop some depth on the offensive line.
Q. With Marvin Wilson and Nyqwan Murray, what are their statuses heading into fall camp?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Those guys will be limited. You won’t see them the first part of training camp, but I think as we get towards the end in training camp, you’ll see those guys out there practicing with us.
Q. The off-campus practices --
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: You trying to get me in trouble.
Q. I know you might not have -- you won’t know how much it will cost until after you go, but ballpark figure, is that something -- what you can spend, close to $300,000, $350,000 almost -- do you have a ballpark figure how much it might cost?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I doubt if we’re spending that much money on it. No, I just want to make sure they got a practice field and some hashmarks and numbers on it and a goal post.
Q. So no food?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: We got some oranges down there. We get some oranges and stuff.
Q. With the VT game, the coaching staff largely new, but the core group of players, same that’s been here. How much does it help the coaching staff that you have guys that have played in really high-profile games in week one and know how to be ready for that?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I think it helps that guys have played in big-time games like this. The hype, it helps; guys understand the hype. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to help us win the ballgame, but understanding the hype that surrounded it all.
The thing we’ve got to do is understand, again, the outcome didn’t happen the way we wanted it to this past year when we did it, and here we go again with a big-time game. We’ve got to make sure that we come out on the other end of that. I think that was a tone-setter for last year, and we didn’t handle it the right way.
It’s so important we learn from our mistakes and make sure we’re practicing and doing the things we can to be ready for a really good Virginia Tech football team on Labor Day.
Q. In terms of the scholarship players in spring, are you expecting everybody to carry over in the fall or is there any attrition?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I think we have one guy left, he’s no longer with us anymore. But other than that, I can’t think of anybody that’s gone. It’s a good thing. Really good thing.
Q. Can you expand on that thought of teaching the players a little bit more about the history of Florida State Football, kind of like the methods that you will use and are there any moments that stick out in your mind that you have to teach?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: One thing I’m planning on doing through training camp is each night this first week, our guys are going to see parts of ‘The Bowden Dynasty’. I think watching that movie, it will tell you pretty much everything about Florida State and how it started, and you feel good about yourself after watching that movie, about knowing the history and everything that happened here at Florida State.
So that’s one way, and continuing to have former players and coaches come in and speak with our guys -- I do think after watching the dynasty and our guys seeing those guys in action and playing, when they do come speak to us, they have a better understanding of who that person is and why we’re all crazy about whoever it was.
But we got to continue to do those things in order for them to understand what we’re really wanting to do.
Q. From the spring, what progress did you see the offense in the tempo and in your experience, how long does it take for a group to get comfortable with something that’s different that fast?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I think the big part of it, once they know what to do -- I don’t think the tempo part of it’s going to kill them. You know, I think in the spring, for them, trying to memorize the play and also go fast, I think that was big. That was new for them. I think now that they understand the tempo better, they understand the plays better.
It makes it so much easier for them. And then after having the whole summer with Coach O. From a conditioning standpoint, it makes things a lot easier for them.
So I think it all goes back to them just understanding their jobs and what they supposed to do, and the tempo part of it just come because that’s the way we practice. Again, we’re not trying to get 100 plays or anything like that, but we’re dictating the tempo when we want to, so our guys understand that, as well.
Q. Hear you’re moving along pretty will with the progress with the football complex, how is that, and why do you feel like you need to have a state-of-the-art facility?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: Yeah, I’m happy with where we’re at.
Again, it speaks volumes to our leadership here and our administration and their vision to making sure that our student athlete have the best of the best. You know, we have high expectations here at Florida State, and with those high expectations, we’ve got to make sure we’re giving our student athletes the best that they can have to live up to those expectation, or it wouldn’t be fair to them.
I think it’s very important to make sure that they have the very best of whatever it is they need to be successful because that’s what we expect out of them, the very best, and that’s what we want to be.
So they go hand-in-hand. You want to be the best, give them the best, and then it all marries up with the expectations.
Q. You spoke about Coach Bell a little bit. Can you talk about Coach [Harlon] Barnett? Obviously you knew what he had done before, but then after seeing the spring and some of the off-season, how have you thought about the job he’s doing?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I think Coach Barnett is doing a really, really good job with our defense, with our defensive coaches, with our players. They just go hand-in-hand with what I said from day one about lethal simplicity.
The way he teaches and coaches over there is the same way we do on the offensive side of the ball, where it’s simple and allows guys to play fast.
I’ve been really, really impressed with how close our defensive staff have come together so quick and they seem like -- I mean, when you see those guys or you walk by the meeting room or you see them out, that they have been together forever.
They are just having fun with one another. I think that’s critical. That’s very important, and I think that makes a huge difference when you’re talking about putting staff together and coming together and our players seeing that, as well. You know, we try to get our players together and I think it’s important that they see us all together.
I think first and foremost, that’s been impressive just how those guys have come together, so when they are together, it’s easier to go sell the vision and teach it to our guys, and you see our guys are buying into it.
They are up there all summer long studying football, and to me, because of the leadership of Coach Barnett and the plan he put in place for these kids to study and learn football, and they are happy doing it. A big part of it is because it’s simple and they can just play.
Been very, very impressed with Coach Barnett and what he’s doing on that side of the ball, and I think it’s going to pay big dividends for us.
Q. Obviously you have a camp in front of you and you need to focus on that, and you’ve coached the spring game, but have you allowed yourself to envision what it’s going to be like running out of the tunnel for real against Virginia Tech and what thoughts you have, and how excited are you for that?
COACH WILLIE TAGGART: I ain’t excited yet, but it’s going to get there. I’ve thought about it plenty of times when we walk out there with recruits and all. I’m kind of like the recruits, I envisioned myself coming out here, too, and the fans are there, but that’s about it.
I haven’t really gotten that far to the Virginia Tech game. Just really excited about tomorrow. Really excited about the meeting tonight, our first meeting back together. Just try to stay in the moment, and know when that day do come, it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be exciting.
It’s going to be a lot of emotion, but it’s going to be go-time. We have to make sure that everything we do from now, tonight’s meeting and to that game, we’re doing everything to prepare us to go out and play the very best game that Florida State university can play.
Appreciate y’all. Look forward to seeing you all through the rest of training camp and the year.
Defensive Coordinator Harlon Barnett
Q. We didn’t get a chance to talk to you during the spring. How pleased were you with the progress in picking up your system, and the progress also during the summer?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Very pleased. Like Coach said, lethal simplicity, and I think that’s why we mesh so well together. The guys from day one to the spring game, they really picked everything up and the more comfortable they got with the defense, the better each individual looked, so we looked better as a defense overall.
So there’s still some room to grow, obviously and some things that we still got to get better at, but very pleased with how they progressed from day one to day 15.
As far as the summer is concerned, like Coach mentioned, we were big on teaching football IQ this summer, understanding certain things about offenses in certain situations, because we are so simple.
The reason we stay simple on defense is so that they are not thinking about their job, as much as: I know my job; now how are these guys trying to attack us or how are they trying to attack me individually.
So that’s something we were teaching them, football IQ this summer, and we feel very good about it and we’re going to see the results of it hopefully on this week, starting with tomorrow.
Q. What was it like when you first heard from Florida State? Obviously you got a job at a place you love. What made you decide Florida State was a fit for you?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Well, and I told this story over and over so many times, I got it locked down, but I’ll give it again real quick to you guys.
At Michigan State, 2016, 3-9, bad year. Our worst year up there. So we come back, 2017, and we’re all focused, ready to get it done, we just changed some things up how we practiced and this and that and the other, go 9-3 in the regular season.
So we totally flipped our record, and then we go out to San Diego and play in the Holiday Bowl and beat Washington State and go 10-3.
That night after the game, I get a text from Coach [Raymond] Woodie. That was one guy I knew on Coach Taggart’s staff from when he was a head high school coach in Palmetto. I used to recruit down there and we had a relationship that way.
He text me: “Call me. Important.” I still got it on my phone, I’m never going to erase it. “Call me, important.”
I’m like, man, he didn’t even congratulate us on the win, man, we won -- for get it, whatever (Laughter) this is late at night. This is like midnight because it was late. I was out there in San Diego, Pacific time and the game was a night game. So, you know, it was late.
So the next day, we’re set to fly out. We’re actually on the Tarmac getting on the plane and so my wife and I get on the plane, and I get the same text from Coach Woodie: “Call me, important.”
So I called him. I called him, I says, “What’s going on?”
”Hey, man, Coach Taggart would like to know if you would like to interview for the Florida State defensive coordinator job.”
What? My mind had already went from shut down, we went from 3-9 to 10-3 and we about to have ten days off, I’m about to go home and relax and now it’s back into, whoa, okay.
I said, “Hey, can you have Coach Taggart just call me tomorrow after 10:00 a.m. Let me sleep in a little bit.”
Sure enough, Coach Taggart called me the next day. I said, “Yeah, I want to come down to interview.” I did so.
And on his way driving me back to the airport, Coach Taggart kind of nonchalantly just said, “Well, hey, what we can do for you is this, this,” and I’m like, is he offering me the job? I think he is. It went from there.
I always told Coach [Mark] Dantonio that I would keep him informed on every step of the way. I think that’s the right thing to do, not that I had to do it, but I think it’s the right thing to do. And I told him what was going on and I went back and met with him.
My wife and I talked about it and then I said, Well, I’ll have a decision the next day and that night.
I wrestled on it. I’m a spiritual person, so I’m praying on it, nothing, nothing, nothing.
I wake up the next morning, and I’m like, wow, this is tough.
So as I was getting out the shower the next morning right before I was going to make the calls, I reminded of something. I felt that God had spoken to me the year before, and I only told my wife this at this time, and this is how I made my decision.
And he said: Coming year -- this is after the 3-9 year, I felt He said this to me. He said, “This is going to be your last year at Michigan State,” and that brought back my remembrance, and that’s how I made my decision.
And so I had to let everybody know. Coach Taggart was fired up. He wouldn’t even let me call him. I said, “I’ll call you back and let you” -- he called me first.
I’m like, “Hey, Coach” -- I told him, I’m coming, and he was fired up, I was fired up.
Then I was going to call Coach Dantonio before him, but he called me before I could call him. And I ended up calling Coach D and letting him know, and I think he was more sad than mad because we had been together for 14 years.
But it was a chance for me to stretch myself. Obviously I was co-defensive coordinator up at Michigan State and defensive coordinator here, and just a chance for me to stretch myself. It was nothing more than that, and then you know, feeling like I was led to be here.
Q. In looking at last year’s defensive tape for Florida State, how much have you been able to do and what did that reveal?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: I’ve been able to watch a lot of it and they are different. They were different than us. They were more of a 3-4 type team. The D-line were more head-up. We go to a 4-3, and that’s not a knock. Always say there’s only one way to do something, and that’s the right way, but there’s more than one right way.
That’s what they do. They have been successful in that defense before, but we’re a 4-3. We’re going to get after you. We’re going to have our ends on the edge, have our backers reading the plan downhill fast, and if the formation dictates, we’ll have our safeties downhill, as well, because the No. 1 thing that we want to do is stop the run.
So I saw, what I did see from last year’s defense, is some dudes here. They got some good players here that can execute what we want to try to do, and they started showing that in the spring and hopefully it will continue this fall camp.
Q. Do you notice any differences between having a role at co-defensive coordinator being all defensive coordinator and how is the transition?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Well, we truly tried to share roles up at Michigan State, Mike Tressel and myself.
Other than game day, I called the defense, but other than that, you know, I picked up a few more duties obviously because we were splitting some of those. And it’s not a tough thing. It was just a matter of organizing yourself and getting things done in a set schedule, and preparing yourself the right way.
So got a lot of help here, as well, in our defensive staff that’s helping me out and it hasn’t been a hard transition.
Q. What can you tell us about Coach [Mark] Snyder, what made you want to have him on your staff here?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Coach Snyder is a veteran coach. As he mentioned to us, he said over the break, over the vacation break, his wife mentioned to us, “Hey, you about to go into your 29th year coaching.” And he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the game. Obviously been a coordinator at major Division I schools and a head coach.
So what he did, one of the big things for us flipping that season from 2016 to 2017 at Michigan State was he came in as our linebacker coach the first two years and then we moved him to D-end coach.
So you’ve got a D-end coach and a D-tackle coach, same way we’re doing it here. And Tressel went back to linebackers, and I totally believe that changed our whole season, our whole defense around. And he does a great job of getting to know the kids and teaching them the entire defense.
Like the defensive ends, they not only know their spot. They know everybody. They know the coverage. They know everything. They know about how everything fits and that’s a testament to him and how he coach those guys.
Q. Kind of a traditional defense, they lost seven starters off last year’s team but there are a lot of young, talented guys. What have you seen from the sophomores, Hamsah [Nasirildeen], Stanford [Samuels III] and Cyrus [Fagan], what did they show you this spring?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: They show me that they have a lot of great ability, man. Great ball skills. They can run. They are tough, physical and that’s what we are looking for. And so my job is -- because you mentioned DBs, all three of those guys are defensive backs, is to get those guys to play with technique consistently, bent knees, looking at the right thing and that’s my job to get that done, and I think they appreciate that, as well.
So I’m going to be hard on them, as hard as I can be on them to get them to execute that part of their game, to elevate their games in that way. They have the natural ability. Now it’s doing all the little things right, the fundamental things and that will be the main focus this fall camp.
Q. I know you said you had a chance to look over a little bit of film before you got hands-on with the guys, but is there something once you got to be with them over the spring that surprised you that maybe you didn’t expect out of your group?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: You know what, as we went through spring, I’m like, man, there’s some dudes here, man. No disrespect to Michigan State, not at all. Obviously it’s my alma mater.
But there’s some dudes down here, man. Guys that jumped out at you and had really good springs: Brian Burns, that’s a dude, man, that’s a dude. Still haven’t seen Josh Kaindoh yet, and you know he didn’t go through spring but I’m hearing how much of a dude he is and that’s just one guy -- I mean, there’s multiple guys.
As you know, Janarius Robinson really stepped up his game, according to what others have said about him, because we’re hearing all this stuff, and I’m seeing other things. I’m like, I know what y’all are saying, but this dude is a good player.
Kyle Meyers, good player. A.J. Westbrook, I mean, I could go on and on. D-Jack (Dontavious Jackson), good players. A lot of good players that really bought into what we were asking them to do, and I think they appreciate the simplicity of our defense and being able to not only know what they have to do, like I said earlier, but understand how the offense is trying to attack us.
Q. One of the hallmarks of your Michigan State defense seemed to be the way that players swarmed to the ball. How important is that aggressiveness of getting 11 guys to the balance to what you do?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Extremely important. It helps cover up mistakes. If someone misses a tackle, I mean, they have guys on scholarship, as well. You’ve got a another guy that’s coming to clean it up and our main thing is, if something like that did happen, if you miss it the right way, understanding leverage and things of that nature.
But flying to the ball, there’s no substitute. That’s the hallmark of a defense, I think, and you can watch it -- and we should be flying around to the ball. We want them getting hats to the ball and making the offense say, hey, man, I do not want to run the ball.
Q. When it comes to your defensive philosophy and the spring, how much of it is what you learned from Mark [Dantonio], or how much as Nick [Saban] as a player, coach, or from [Bill] Belichick, also?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: All of it is kind of intertwined to be honest with you. I try to take pieces from the difference places I’ve been and the different coaches I’ve been around, but the defense itself, Pat Narduzzi, the head coach at Pitt, D’Antonio put us together in 2004 at the University of Cincinnati, myself, Mike Tressel, and at the time our D-line coach was Ted Gill.
We all were from different places and we came together with Pat, and this is a defense -- and we made it fit to how we do what we do and to where now you’re seeing the product that’s out there.
We’ve been able to, you know, have successful defenses because of it, and you know, we always focus, our No. 1 thing is to stop the run. That’s the No. 1 thing for a defensive football team is to stop the run and I think Walt would say the No. 1 thing for the offense is run the football.
So we are going to focus on that and try to make them one-dimensional and after that, you go from there. But it’s a defense that was formulated over the last 14 years of us running, it seeing all the ins and outs of it, and understanding, you know, people try and attack you this way or that way; we figured all that stuff over the last 14 years.
Now, there are going to be other ways that people are going to try to attack us down here, I’m sure, and we’ll figure those out, as well.
Q. What is Jaiden Woodbey’s football IQ and can he make an impact even as a freshman?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: It’s extremely high. His football IQ is extremely high and it’s not so much of what he had already known but because he put so much hard work in.
He’s so diligent in everything that he does. He’s raised it to a level that -- because you know, I didn’t know that -- he knows it now and you’d better believe he knows it. You ask him, he’d say it’s better than what it was before he first got here and we want to continue to take him to that level.
He’s one of those guys that he can’t get enough. He can’t get enough of football. He can’t get enough. He’s a goal-oriented person and you would love to have a team full of that guy.
Q. Going back to the car ride to the airport with Willie, how did you determine, yeah, he did just offer me the job?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Because actually when I got back home that night -- again, that’s two times I said, “I’ll call you” and he called me first.
So I got back home that evening after leaving here, and he called me, and then he started talking more specific in those terms, like to offer you the job, see what I’m saying -- good question, but he got more specific with it, and it just went from there.
Q. You’ve had a chance to peek a little bit ahead to some of the opponents. How are the ACC different than maybe what you saw in the Big Ten, and if they are a little different, how may that change how you approach things, schematically or philosophically?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Well, a lot of these teams, offenses across the country, even in the Big Ten, there’s some type of thought process towards how Big Ten football is, but there are a lot of teams that try to do some of the things that are done in the ACC believe it or not.
A lot of teams are going to what we call blue personnel, or 11 personnel. You know, one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers. A lot of teams are going to that and we saw that in the Big Ten, as well. You see that with Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, and people going fast and all that kind of stuff.
We’ve felt like, now, the defense has gone against these type of teams over and over over the years and feel like we’ve got some answers to the things they like to do.
It’s great that our offense goes fast because that’s the thing that everybody tries to do now and wear you out. At Michigan State, we had to get our scout team to understand: This is fast, because we didn’t go that fast, right.
So we had to get our scouts -- now when we go scout teams, they understand the tempo of it, so that will really help us. That will serve as an advantage to us, I think, this year, just because it’s what we already do here.
Q. You mentioned 4-3 is your kind of base. Is it free of what we would consider traditional linebackers, or one may be more of a hybrid? And are you like a cover three kind of guy in terms of what you guys are going to run, basically?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: I wouldn’t say cover three. I say that anybody that knows us, they would be laughing saying, he’s lying.
That guy -- that guy is what I tell people all the time, the star linebacker for us. He’s like an old school strong safety, is kind of what I think. I think the old school strong safety doesn’t exist any more, not in the type of defense that we’re trying to run. You know, the big O guy, the David Fulchers of the world, Steve Atwater type guys, because everybody has to be able to run, cover and tackle, everybody, in the secondary, I believe.
So when you talk about, is he playing corner, are you recruiting him as a corner or a safety, I’m saying DB now. That philosophy has changed since being here. You have got to be able to run, cover and tackle everybody.
And so we look for guys do be able to do that, and we feel like we’ve got some guys here that can do that because it’s such a big space game nowadays. So you’ve got to be able to cover yourself in space. Hopefully I answered your question.
Q. At times last season, the season before, once this team had a turnover or mishap on defense, they started to pile up and they started to lose their confidence a little bit. When these things happen in camp and during games, what are some things that you’re going to do to try to bring them back to square one?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: We’ll talk about it prior to. We’ve been talking about it, adverse situations. When adversity hits, how are we going to handle it.
So handling adversity: And we’ve been talking about it, talking about it, talking about it, talking about it, over and over and over. Obviously in camp is one of the most adverse times for everybody involved. It gets to be long. It’s long days. It gets to be day ten -- this is something I’ve always said since I’ve been coaching.
Day one, everybody fired up, flying around, looking good. Okay.
You get to day ten, you’ve got a fingernail hurt, an elbow sore. Who is still going to be showing up now?
You get to day 20, who is still showing up getting it done? And some of these injuries that you have in camp, you have for the rest of the year in football, and I remember that as a player.
So what are you going to be able to do to push through and that’s how we’ve been talking to them, just handling adverse situations. I’m sure Coach Taggart will be putting us in adverse situations where our guy think he made a play and he says, no, it’s really a first down offense, how are we going to handle that.
So we talk to them about it so they are prepared, and everybody don’t get to whining and complaining to one another, and just line up and play.
Q. The linebacker position lost all three starters from last year. What did you think from that unit in the spring and how excited are you for the young guys?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: I think as a unit, it doesn’t have a lot of depth right now but it has really stepped up. They understand, they hear all the talk about linebackers this, linebacker that, so they have taken it as a personal challenge I think with a chip-on-their-shoulder-type thing and they are coming to play.
They know what they need to do to get it done and so I’m excited about the guys, all of them, I really am, and again, because of how we play, and their understanding of the defense, it allows them to play fast, physical and aggressive.
Q. Taggart talked about having Coach Bowden around and he didn’t see it as a negative having a former coach around and Mickey Andrews is a legend around here, as well. How is it talking to him and meeting him and what do you look forward to from that relationship?
COACH HARLON BARNETT: Wisdom. I love it, man. First time he came by here maybe in February or something -- first thing I said, “Coach, give us some wisdom.” I glean on that type of stuff, and I just wrote down -- I’m not going to share what he said, but I wrote it down and I got it in my notes.
So when this came about and Coach Taggart said he wanted to bring him on, I said “Awesome. That’s awesome.”
There’s nothing like getting that wisdom. I’m always trying to pull wisdom from older people that have experienced things that I have not, and because you can learn from their mistakes and their successes. So I think it’s big time. I’m fired up about it. I really am.
Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell
Q. During the spring and during the summer, working with the quarterbacks, how have all three done and maybe just areas where you’ve made the most progress?
COACH WALT BELL: Yeah, especially in the spring, you kind of have Deondre [Francois] in a little bit of a limited role, so he was more mental reps every day. He was the guy back there in the back ten yards behind everything.
So I thought he can a great job managing his mental reps. You could really see him taking advantage. He probably only going to throw 30, 40 balls in seven-on-seven situations but just to have him back there taking mental reps, starting to get the mental mastery of the system a little bit and then physically, you know, between James [Blackman] and Bailey [Hockman], I thought both those guys did a great job.
I thought Bailey Hockman had his best four practices the last four practices. I think there’s going to be great competition going into camp.
You know, unfortunately, not allowed to do very much with them in the summertime but those guys are anxious to learn, just the amount of time those guys have put into our base install. All summer long, those guys are repping: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4; and kind of keeping everything -- Coach Taggart kind of alluded to it earlier: We’re not teaching ABCs anymore.
We’re able to go correct things and start teaching the details of the job, the X, Y, Zs of the position, and a lot of the things that you’re not able to get to just solely because we’re lining up what to do.
Now it’s how do I do my job better. So I’m excited to see that and especially integrating these young guys in but all three of those kids have done a great job and excited to see who becomes quarterback.
Q. Will it be all three getting equal with the first team --
COACH WALT BELL: You know, Coach Taggart and I, every day that thing will be changing but all three of those kids will definitely get a chance because they have earned that right, so excited to see who does well with what reps.
As we move forward, every day is a competition. Every rep they took in the spring, every rep, whether it’s individual, team, group, seven-on-seven, everyone is graded just like it’s a game. We have tangible evidence about who does what well.
Again, just that competition will be ongoing and all three of those kids will get a chance to win a job.
Q. Third-and-two at the goal line: Run or pass?
COACH WALT BELL: Depends on who you’re playing. There’s a lot more that goes into that. I just know how I’m designed and how I grew up. Hopefully if we’re in the same situation, we’ve got a yard to go to win the football game, hopefully we’re going to run the football, but you earn that right. You earn the respect.
You weren’t at fall camp, that trust, when our lives are on the line, the program, every coach, every fan, when our -- when our team, when you have those types of choices, you earn that in fall camp.
No. 1, it depends on what you’re good at and that’s what fall camp is for, so we can figure all that out, and more importantly, figure out who are the guys we can trust. That’s going to be -- the ultimate goal of fall camp, especially offensively for us is, just to identify the guys we can trust and how do you do that.
Does your position coach trust you to make your unit better? Do your teammates trust you to play as hard as you can possibly play? If you can do those two things, we’ll have a chance.
But whether we run it or throw it, you guys hard the boss earlier: It’s up to him. It’s my job to give him as much good information as I possibly can on game day but that’s up to Coach.
Q. Technically, guys come in different places, different ways they have learned, but as far as intangibly, what are you looking for from your quarterback, some of the Inc. tangibles you like to see?
COACH WALT BELL: For me, the ultimate job description of quarterback is as follows: The job description of quarterback is make the other ten guys better. To me, who can do that at a higher rate, that’s going to be the guy that you entrust to be the quarterback and for me, there’s a couple of ways that you do that.
I think No. 1, you lead from the front. You can’t lead from the back. You’ve got to be a guy that -- and when I say leadership, I don’t mean a yeller or a screamer because everybody is their own person and everybody has their own way and everybody has their own style, but I think you’ve got to be a guy that your teammates can trust, and I think you earn that in a multitude of ways, whether it’s how you work or how you speak to people or the relationships you create.
Again, I go back to make the other ten guys better and some of that is, you know, you’ve got to know who they need you to be that day, whether they need you to be a cheerleader, whether they need you to be a friend, whether they need you to be a confidant, whether they need you to be a yeller or a screamer. I think those are some of the tangibles or intangibles that you kind of rest on, or who has great people skills and then who can be a great teammate and who can be who the other guys need you to be.
And then football stuff, that kind of takes care of itself: Who can drive their eyes in the right place and who can take the right drop and who can react accordingly. Intangibly, the kind of things I always look for every day: Who can be the same guy every day; who can be even keel.
When you get people like me who are super Type A and ultra-organized, it’s a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing because typically those people don’t handle failures as well.
So we want a guy that’s nice and even-keel. He’s the same guy at practice every day; he’s the same guy he is on Saturday. An even-keel personality guy that can fail well and get his teammates to respond.
Q. Coach Taggart said he would be calling plays on game day, but in terms of scouting, week-to-week, self-scouting, putting together a game plan, what will your responsibilities be?
COACH WALT BELL: Yeah, I look at coordinate, especially in this situation, it is a verb.
And my job specifically -- and honestly, not having been through a game week with Coach Taggart yet, I can’t tell you exactly, but I think my job this season is as follows: And that’s to do everything that I can possibly do, whether it be from an efficiency time management/organization, my job is to do everything I can possibly do where it is as easy as it can possibly be for him on game day.
That’s my job to make sure from an organizational standpoint, from a teaching standpoint, from a mentor standpoint; that we are doing everything we can do for our 11 kids on offense to make sure that all Coach Taggart has got to do is call it and it happens the way he wants it to.
Not real sure yet, but we’ll know real soon.
Q. Wide receiver depth has been a little lacking over the past couple years, and spring, injuries, so many reps to go around. You brought in a big receiver class. How much do you plan on using them?
COACH WALT BELL: Yeah, they are not going to have a choice. We will lead the horse to water and we will make him drink. Those young guys, they are not going to have a choice.
A lot of those young guys got a lot of valuable reps in the spring but especially the kids that got here in the summer, it’s amazing how hard, how much you’ve seen those guys study installs, how much you’ve seen those guys invest in themselves to make sure that when they go out there, knowing that you’re a snap or two away from being out there on Monday night against Virginia Tech, I think those kids -- all those young wide-outs are doing a great job in terms of just preparing themselves for just this first practice.
I’m excited. I’m like Coach Taggart, I can’t wait to go out there and meet them at 6:00, 7:00 and get out there in the morning and watch those guys work.
Especially I think for those young kids, and people don’t talk about this very much, but so many of those kids put so much pressure on themselves; if they just go out there and relax and remember it’s a kid’s game, and actually have a good time; that generally will allow those kids to fail a little bit better; and understand, there’s no way to mastery other than failure.
You don’t just wake up in the morning the best ever. You have to have a lot of rough times to get there. As long as the kids can mentally handle those mistakes and come back the next day fighting, we’ll be all right.
Q. When do you expect to start tackling?
COACH WALT BELL: Great question. You know what, because my answer is probably going to be exactly what you think it is, and that’s we’re not real sure yet.
I feel like we have got a chance to be really good at the tackle position. I feel like that we’ll have, you know, eight, nine guys that we can really trust by the time that, No. 1, we’re all healthy and No. 2, everything is said and done with camp. You know, are we incredibly deep at the position? No. But do I feel like that we’ll have, you know, the depth needed to get through a season and play the type of people that we’re going to have to play? Yeah.
In terms of who the tackles will be, it really all depends on kind of who wins those jobs inside, which will allow us some freedom to possibly move some guys around.
I can’t tell you, but the good news is, we’re going to start finding out here in about 24 hours.
So we’re excited. But we’ve got work to do there but not in a way that any of us are fearful of. We’ll find the two or three right guys, go out there on the edge and do the job, and I feel like we’ve got the guys to do it. It’s just who it’s going to be and what order.
Q. I know Coach Taggart talked about seeing the offense on film and that you guys did a lot of similar things but were you surprised when you guys actually put the plays together how similar your concepts were or were you excited to see there were wrinkles that maybe he had that you didn’t or vice versa?
COACH WALT BELL: I think it’s been really good. First and foremost, you know, when I got here, it was really important to me that I learn it exactly as he did it. You know, it wasn’t a, come-in-here-and-try-to-put-my-stuff-with-his-stuff. No.
It’s, let’s learn his stuff because that’s what he wants to call and the way he wants it done. And along the way, if there’s something we can possibly make better, that’s up for discussion.
But for me coming in, it was really important just to learn his system. You know, how does he talk. What’s the verbiage he uses. What’s he call this; what’s he call that. How does he want this communicated, so I can communicate to our players that way.
For me, my past, growing up as a player at Middle Tennessee, where there were not a lot of spread one-back offenses -- this is all I’ve ever done, spread one back and play real fast and play real wide. Really similar.
Just for me, it was really more just learning new terminology and making sure that just even in free communication, when he and I are sitting in a room, that when I say something, it’s something that makes sense to him, you know, and so that’s really what that thing was about.
But no, incredibly similar in terms of what we really believe from a philosophy standpoint on offense, but even more than that, I think why I’m so excited to be here is I’m around a guy that believes in all the same things that make me want to coach.
He’s a guy that’s invested in our kids, like there’s every coach in America is going to stand up here and say family and talk, they love their guys. But it’s a daily, real investment in the growth and the well-being and growth of our kids, not just out there on the grass, but as human beings.
So just to be around a guy -- it makes that much more convincing of a salesman, which is also called teaching. Just when there really is a mission that’s bigger than what happens in front of people on Saturdays.
Football, how he, you know, lives his life and how he treats our kids, it’s been a great marriage so far.
Q. The team will naturally gravitate towards whoever is making the most plays at the quarterback position and whoever you guys put out there, they will get behind. Do you sense that the guys on the offensive side of the ball have a deeper maybe appreciation for James Blackman because he was a guy that was thrown out there last year and having been baptized by fire, do you see anyway that they gravitated to his leadership?
COACH WALT BELL: I’m going to answer your question in two parts just to make sure that I do this the right way.
One, James is an incredible kid. The way his teammates feel about him is 100 percent completely deserved.
The second part is, I wasn’t here. I’m a guy that I truly believed that when a new staff comes in, that when there’s a new group, if you listen to everybody else, you’re going to miss a lot of things. It’s amazing what coaching changes can do to human beings. I’m a perfect example of that.
Blake Anderson changed my life. I’m a football coach because of Blake Anderson. Blake Anderson was a position coach that became as important to me as my own father and I wasn’t that guy before him. I think that’s kinds of the ultimate goal, No. 1, of this business is to make sure that you also pass along that influence.
So I don’t care what happened here before. I really don’t. I care what happened the day I got hired and moving forward. I think all three of our quarterbacks possess different skills. All three of them have ways to win a football game. And who they gravitate to, that is a big part of the equation and that will be a big part of the equation moving forward.
You always hear me using this analogy -- I’ve never once talked about a depth chart in six, seven years of coaching quarterbacks or five or six years of being a coordinator. I don’t think I have ever talked about a depth chart to the quarterbacks, because the other ten guys, offense, about 12, 15 practices from now, a guy will walk in there and everybody will know, that’s the dude.
And then if some other guy walks in, they will get the side eye from me, are you sure you want him in here with us right now. They make those choices. To me, that’s the goal of the quarterback is how quickly can you get that done and how quickly will those other guys know, and that’s what camp is for.
To be clear, I don’t care what happened, I don’t care who played and I don’t care who they liked. I care about what these kids do from the time we get hired to the day that we’re not here anymore. I think all three of those kids have done a great job. They are all trying to grow as people and as quarterbacks. That’s why I’m excited about camp.
Q. How hard do you think it’s going to be for you on game days, since you have been calling plays for five, six years now, to maybe take a step back? You said your personality is Type A.
COACH WALT BELL: Well, I’m very Type A about being the best employee that I can be (Laughter). I’m very Type A about taking care of my new wife. I’m very Type A about being -- my grand dad was in the military and I’ve got a brother in the military. I’m very good at following instruction, and I take pride in being a great employee and doing everything I get asked to do, no more, no less.
That’s his role. That’s his job. My job is to provide him with the best information I possibly can do. I’m not going to be the antsy guy out there spitting out stuff, that’s not me.
My job is to be the best offensive coordinator I can be so he can go do his job to the best of his ability. When I say I’m Type A, you know, whether it’s -- how I work or how I organize or whatever it may be, you know, but in no way, shape or form will that ever manifest itself in a way that’s destructive to us on game day.
Q. Not to disparage the places you were at before, but what is it like for you to have this much talent? How much fun is that for you?
COACH WALT BELL: Yeah, my last year at Arkansas State, where you just kind of knew that even though different level of competition in conference on a week-to-week basis but you kind of know that, you know, you’re loaded up pretty good and you’re going to have a good year, 2011 at Southern Miss, our last year there, kind of felt that way.
This is the first time in a long time I feel like if we can stay healthy outside the hashmarks, if we can -- you know, we’ve got -- even though there may be some names that people don’t know very well right now, we’ve got a chance to be really special if we can stay healthy and we can get the quarterback to distribute the football where it’s supposed to go.
I feel like we’ve got great running backs. We’ve got tight ends. We’ve got great receivers. We’re just young. You know, can we put all those pieces together, and you know, how quickly can we learn and assimilate to the system and really start to master stuff. That’s really, coming out of spring, just how many reps it takes to get good.
So that’s what we’re trying to get done right now. But you know, really excited about the pieces we have in place. Just, you know, some luck involved, got to stay healthy and you’ve got to handle your business.
Q. You spoke about the young receivers in the spring. The guys coming in right now are coming in for the summer that you hope to contribute, as well. What’s the biggest thing they have to show you?
COACH WALT BELL: It’s going to sound really stupid because it is so simple, but I think one of the biggest adjustments -- now the good news is, nine out of ten high school teams in the country right now see a signal and play fast. I mean, that’s just kind of the way football is.
When I first went to school, there weren’t a lot of people doing that. Now, it’s what everybody in the world does, from the NFL to Pop Warner football, is people doing zone read and ball screen.
I think, process time; the ability to be efficient in transition. Ball carrier hits the ground, drive my eyes to the signal, get the signal, get lined up and snap it (snapping fingers).
That small window for all these young kids -- not necessarily the first two or three days, because they have been doing that all summer and acclimated themselves.
But when the install really starts to pile up; and maybe a hamstring makes us move this kid to this spot and this another kid to another spot, and the processing starts to, like, bog you down a little bit. I think the ones that can process the quickest and process the most efficiently, I think those are the kids that you kind of trust to go put out there.
Therefore, those kids kind of get more reps. To me, the biggest adjustment is the processing and that’s for every young, offensive skill said, efficiently quarterback. So how you have to see a signal, process the signal, call for the football -- do you all of the things we ask you to do, you know, play point guard.
I think the processing time for those young wide-outs will be the thing, No. 1 that shocks them; and then No. 2 is we have got to coach them through moving forward.
Q. Coming in, seems like you and Coach Taggart have an emphasis on establishing the run and that’s a big priority for you guys offensively. What kind of a luxury is it to have four or five guys, obviously very talented at the position here and how will you guys in game handle that rotation? Obviously you’re not going to run one guy 50 times so how will that be determined?
COACH WALT BELL: The second part of your question, you know, can’t really answer right now. Just because we haven’t been through camp and they kind of haven’t set their own depth chart yet.
The first part of your question, you have got to be able to run the football. And it doesn’t matter what style, doesn’t matter if you’re going to be like Stanford, 33 and 32 and run John Power, or you’re going to be an empty and run your quarterback, it doesn’t matter, but you have got to be able to run the football.
I think that goes not only for us offensively but if your defense is going to be able to stop the run, they have got to get, you know -- they have got to stop it in practice. The only way to learn to stop the run is to get off blocks and tackle people.
I think not only are you setting yourself for success, but you’re also setting the success of your defense by how physical you can run the football.
So No. 1, I think that’s just a philosophy thing. If we are going to run the football and stop the run, that’s going to be something you’re practicing and you have to do every day.
In terms of the depth, I’ve never been anywhere where we had -- I’ve been places where you could play four or five guys, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been any why where you had four or five this talented. Really excited.
But the one thing I can tell you is that is always is going to take that many. It’s the only position left in this game where nobody cares. Quarterbacks protect it. Receivers protect it. Kickers protect it. Defenses player, protected. Running backs, ain’t nobody protecting them. It’s one of those kind of the last positions in this game where there’s still an aspect of violence to it where you know that those guys aren’t going to be able to carry it 20, 30, 40 times a game.
So I’m excited to have all those guys and excited to see how it shakes out. And on top of that, not only have we got a bunch of good players, but four or five of those kids, all good dudes. Good people and they are fun to coach. Until they prove otherwise, I expect that room to be really successful.
Q. Do you know if you’ll be in the box during games?
COACH WALT BELL: I believe so. I can 99.9 percent say with confidence that I’ll be in the press box. Prefer it up there.
And then on top of it, if Coach Taggart is calling the plays from the football field, my way to help him the most is to be his eyes in the press box and make sure that he’s getting all the information that he needs.
Q. Just talking about the running backs and establishing the run, with your inexperience at tight end and wide receiver, how much of a benefit can they be in the passing game --
COACH WALT BELL: Yeah and that is one thing that -- I got asked a question earlier, about Coach Taggart’s system and how it came together. I think one thing that is really evident after being through a spring with Coach Taggart is how much the backs and tight ends are involved in the throw game.
I think that’s a way that we can kind of create more touches even for that position even if it’s not necessarily me handing you the football. And so, really excited.
The ability to play two and three tailbacks at a time in terms of personnel, I mean, and a lot of those kids also have, like receiver skills. It’s not just throwing those guys the ball out of the backfield but lining them up at receiver, in the slot, outside, inside. We are able to do all those things and we’re able to do all those things in the spring.
I think it’s another way to create touches and create some mismatches, as well.
Q. You mentioned the intangibles at quarterback. What is it you’re looking for in this offense?
COACH WALT BELL: I think one of the great things about this system, had a kid like [Quinton] Flowers had a certain set of tools in his toolbox that were a little bit different and they had great success with him. And then he goes to Oregon and, they have a 6-6 kid that is a good athlete but not as good a runner and they kind of build the system around his skills.
For me, in terms of their physical tools and what we’re looking for, we’re just looking for a winnable set of skills. You always hear me talk about a quarterback’s toolbox and whatever tools in that toolbox are sharp. There’s always some that are sharp and there are always some that are a little bit dull and we have to continue to sharpen, and that’s what practice is for.
We have to identify what those winnable skills are; what are their sharpest tools; and make sure that whoever that guy is that wins the job, then we put them out there on Saturday and we’re making sure that we’re not asking him to do something that he doesn’t do well; or for lack of a better with a way to put it, that we are playing to his skills and making sure that we’re putting him in a position to be successful. Because if that kid is successful, typically the offense is successful.
And so I think in terms of what we’re looking for, I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter mold. I don’t think you’ve got to be this height or run this fast or you’ve got to do this, because for every one of those statements that I will make, everybody in here can think of another guy that was a great quarterback that may not meet one of those criteria. So logically, not real smart of me to say, you have to look like this or throw it like this or here, here, here.
I just think identifying their winnable skills and making sure we cater to those skills on game day I think is the biggest thing for us.
Q. What’s it like to be one-on-one in a meeting with Coach Taggart? What’s the interaction like?
COACH WALT BELL: I think he’s got a really special gift and just kind of how he is in here. I think he’s got a really special gift and it probably will -- I am sure, not probably will, but I’m sure it has helped him kind of create the cohesiveness with his staff. He has a way of being very direct in getting his point across in a way but for some reason, you like him for it.
I am not that way. I just can’t do that. It’s not my personality. Not who I am. But he has an incredible way about him to communicate very directly, very clearly and make sure everybody understands the message, but you’ve got a smile on your face when you hear it.
I think especially in today’s -- and I’ve worked for plenty of coaches where that’s not the way. But just I think he’s -- just his demeanor, he’s fun to be around. Not that there aren’t things that we don’t get coached on. That’s his job is to coach us, not that there aren’t things that we don’t get coached on and coached hard.
He’s himself and very authentic and genuine. He doesn’t act one way in here and completely change who he is when all the doors are closed and nobody else is around. I just think the authenticity of him is, for me, you know, very refreshing and made me even more excited to be here knowing that you’re working for a good guy.
Makes a lot better salesman and a lot more apt to buy into the mission when you believe in that guy. I think our kids can tell you the same thing.
Q. Before you met Coach Taggart, what did you hear about him? Did you inquire about him?
COACH WALT BELL: No, I didn’t -- I did not know Willie Taggart at all. I’ve told that story publically. I got a random text message after a game, you know, and then another text message in late December and then we talked that night. Then he offered me the job on Monday night at a Hilton at Perimeter Center in Atlanta, and I got in my car and drove.
You know, I don’t mean this as a slight to Coach Taggart at all, I don’t. I know that guy will score a ton of points and I know that his kids love him and to me, that’s -- that’s all that I really needed to know.
More importantly than that, was it’s Florida State. I mean, I do not mean that as a slight to Coach Taggart at all. But I used to run around my front yard pretending to be Charlie Ward. There’s six or seven places in the world that when they ask you to come, you don’t ask questions and you just go. This is one of them.
I’ve got an incredible amount of respect, for just what Coach Taggart did at South Florida. In off-season studies I think going into my second year at Arkansas State as the offensive coordinator, studying those guys; didn’t know him from Adam. Didn’t call him.
Just really invested in some of the things they did, quarterback-run game driven because our quarterback at the time was really similar to [Quinton] Flowers in terms of his winnable skills.
So studied them going into our second year at Arkansas State, but just being an admirer of -- again, I think the ultimate mark of a coach is how the kids play. When I say “play,” I don’t mean like, do they score or do they not score; but just watching them interact with him. I mean, they love that guy.
And as long as you can get that kind of bye-in, doesn’t matter what you do: Triple-option, throw it every play, run it every play, you’ll find a way to be successful.
Part of the thing that makes me so excited is being around a guy that makes me feel that way about him.
Q. What are your impressions of [defensive coordinator] Coach Barnett and bringing the same things from Michigan State?
COACH WALT BELL: I think in terms of preparation, how hard are they to prepare for, they are not really. They line up and they do what they do, but I don’t think that’s -- again, schemes and X’s and O’s, there’s a million guys in this business that can do that. There’s a lot of guys that are unbelievable on chalk boards.
I think what makes Coach Barnett and what made Michigan State so successful is everybody in the world knew where they were going to be. They were going to line and they were going to be in a four-down front and play press on the outside and safeties were going to be eight yards deep and levelled off and everybody could probably spit on the football, and that’s what they do, you know what I’m saying.
There’s not a whole lot of questions. They have a great third down package which is I think one of the things that’s more underrated about those guys in terms of third and mediums and longs. But normal down-and-distance don’t do a whole lot, but I think what makes them so special is how hard they play, you know, how they tackle.
I think one of the strengths about -- you’ll hear Coach Taggart say lethal simplicity. I think one of the strengths about what Coach Barnett and those guys do, is they are not all worried about what are we doing. And because they are not always installing new stuff, and it’s not, you know, nine different defenses or 12 different calls; there’s one or two calls.
So when you’re not teaching all the time, scheme, you can teach what really matters: Tackling, turnovers, what are the offenses actually trying to do to you. I think the strength of what they do is they have the confidence to not do a ton of stuff.
It scares some people to death when you don’t feel like you have enough stuff on that little sheet, and to basically say, you’re not important. I think they play very confidently, and when I say “confidence,” they don’t care that you know.
Every coach in the country on offense can tell you where they are going to be on first and second down, you know, and they are still one of the top defenses in the country every year. It’s how hard they play, the details in their jobs and how they play the game that makes them so special.
And you can see that happening right now. I fully expect, as long as they can stay healthy and things happen the way we need to happen over the next month, I fully expect those guys to be pretty good.