Clemson's Turner

Syracuse's Trishton Jackson, left, and Clemson's Nolan Turner vie for a Syracuse pass during the first half of an ACC game on Sept. 14 in Syracuse, N.Y.

CLEMSON – Clemson just finished a bye week, and so did their next opponent, the Florida State Seminoles. But that is not where the similarities between the two programs end.

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In fact, it was only two years ago that Seminole head coach Willie Taggart stopped by the Clemson campus hoping to poach a few ideas from head coach Dabo Swinney.

Coaches generally take trips to opposing schools during the summertime break.

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It is a time to learn from other schools about their schemes, what works for them, how they run their program, offense and defensive philosophies, etc. In fact, the Tigers have traveled to a number of different schools since head coach Dabo Swinney took over during the 2008 season.

Generally you avoid schools that you will play, as your opponents are not very anxious to share their secrets with you. That is unless you had no intention of being an opposing coach, which is exactly what happened to Taggart, who spent some time at Clemson on his way to Oregon — where he was a newly hired head coach.

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When he was asked if he would have paid more attention if he had known a year later he would be trying to knock off the Tigers as the kings of the ACC, his response was to turn the tables and sing the praises of the program that Swinney has built.

“I wouldn't say I would have paid a lot more attention. I paid a lot of attention while I was there,” Taggart said. “Coach (Dabo) Swinney has done a great job at Clemson. I loved how he ran his program. I had a chance to meet with his offensive coordinator the year before and was really impressed with him. And I think after meeting Coach Scott, I was like, I want to meet Coach Swinney and see how all this thing originated.

“But they've done a great job over the years, and once you go there and you get around the program and you see the environment, you see the culture, you can understand why they're having a lot of success at Clemson.”

For Taggart, the purpose behind the trip was not so much X’s and O’s as it was about him personally — to make sure that he was headed in the right direction as a coach and a person.

Taggart rose to stardom in 2015, when, after back-to-back losing seasons at South Florida, he led the Bulls to an 8-5 record and their first bowl game in five years. The next year, the Bulls went 10-2 — their first double-digit win total in school history.

Following the 2016 season, Taggart accepted the head coaching position at Oregon — his first job at a Power 5 school -- which left him wanting to make sure that he was doing things the right way.

“That was the purpose of going there, and to kind of -- for me personally, just as a young coach and moving his way up, kind of clarify some things to me that we're already doing it the right way where we're at and continuing to do things the way we're doing it, we'll get to where we all want to go,” Taggart said.

While Taggart hoped to learn about himself during his trip to Tiger Town, Swinney believes Taggart is a perfect fit for the Seminoles, and the hiring of Taggart will rejuvenate the conference, the school and the rivalry — which the Tigers have owned over the last three seasons.

"I knew who he was but had never been around him and met him. He had a great reputation at Western Kentucky,” Swinney said. “If you look at what he did where he's been, he built them and got them going. He didn't have great starts at either place but he built them. I've seen him a few more times through ACC meetings. He will do a great job and is a good fit. A good man.”

Two years ago, there was no way to know that less than two years later the Tigers would be facing a Taggart-led Seminole team. But that meeting does not worry Swinney.

“They are committed to who they are. His visit here was for more program-type stuff,” Swinney said. “Schematically they're convicted in what they do and they're very different in what they do. A few things similar.”

However, Swinney admitted that if he had known that Taggart would find his way to the Seminole program a year later, he probably would not have welcomed him with open arms.

"The coaching business is a unique fraternity,” Swinney said. “It has always been that way. Coaches get together. We have a convention. We get together and talk. I probably wouldn't have let him (Willie Taggart) come had I known he was going to leave Oregon after 10 months. There are certain people we wouldn't let come in because they're on our schedule.”

NOTE: Clemson at Louisville on Oct. 19 will be a noon kickoff on ABC.

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io


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