Sept. 2, 2009
By John Denton
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He won't throw a pass or a block Saturday night, won't make a move to elude a defender or get anywhere near the end zone for that matter, but Charlie Taaffe's first game at UCF will likely be the most anticipated debut of them all.
Taaffe, UCF's new offensive coordinator, is in charge of breathing life into a Knights' offense that struggled mightily last season. Taaffe, a coach for 35 years at the pro, college and prep levels, brings a wealth of experience with him, and head coach George O'Leary opted to hire him in the spring because of his tremendous depth of knowledge. In years past, Taaffe's offenses have incorporated option, spread, run-and-shoot and pro-set formations - all facets expected to be utilized in UCF's new-look offensive attack.
Through spring ball and preseason camp, Taaffe's influence on the offense has been quite noticeable. He is a stickler about details, insisting that his players work in unison for the greater good of the offense.
What thrills players most about Taaffe's offense is his willingness to attack defenses, especially deep down the field. Taaffe wants his offense taking at least two shots a quarter down the field, feeling that it is imperative to utilize UCF's speed to keep defenses honest.
As for feeling pressure to turn around UCF's offense, Taaffe isn't concerned about those expectations. He has seen a focused determination from the players to make strides offensively this season. And Taaffe is confident that UCF's offense will again be among the most feared in Conference USA this season.
``They had a tough time last year, but we have a saying around here that tough times don't last forever, but tough people do,'' Taaffe said. ``The kids have fought back and I hope I can help contribute to their success. I just want them to go out there and have fun and enjoy the game of football.''
With Saturday's season-opener against Samford just days away, Knights Insider sat down and discussed the changes in the offense with Taaffe.
QUESTION: Where have the biggest strides been in UCF's offense throughout preseason camp?
COACH TAAFFE: One, I think the players' work ethic has been outstanding and the retention from the spring has been great. We weren't starting over again and I was concerned about how far along we'd be. Consequently, we've been able to add and install. You're never satisfied as a coach, but I'm pleased.
We have the ability to distribute the ball to a lot of people and we want to be a complete offense. We need a good, healthy balance. It comes down to the preparation and the execution on the field. Players make plays. Plays are sometimes overrated and it's players who execute them that is important. We have to get the ball into the playmakers hands and let them make plays because that's why they are on scholarship.
QUESTION: Your players rave about your intense attention to every detail. Is that one of the things you've tried to stress to your players - do things the right way?
COACH TAAFFE: Sometimes as a player you lose sight of the little things. You're focused on the big picture and the end result and you lose sight of what it takes to get that result. I've tried to make the analogy that each guy only has to do 1/11, but each guy has to do that 1/11 for the play to be success. No one guy should feel like he has to carry the whole load. That's the theme that I've tried to present - do your job, the guy next to you does his job and the offense will be successful.
QUESTION: Feeling pressure isn't the right wording, but is there a tremendous urgency to get this offense back on track right away this season?
COACH TAAFFE: Urgency is the key word. With pressure, there's good pressure and bad pressure. Bad pressure is when you walk into an exam and you haven't studied for it. Good pressure is the pressure you put on yourself to hold yourself accountable to a high standard. That's what I do and that's the message I've tried to get across to the offense. We expect to be good and we expect to be improved. We'll hold ourselves accountable, and if that's pressure, well it's a good pressure.
The operative word is urgency. These guys had a rough year last year offensively and I've seen a resolve on their part to be better. I just hope to bring something to the table to help them be better. They deserve it because they have worked extremely hard.
QUESTION: You've talked about from your experience as a play-caller that one game fans love you and the next they want your head on a platter. How do you tune out that outside noise?
COACH TAAFFE: I've been doing this a long time and you're never going to please everybody. I've got a job to do and I'll do it to the best of my ability. I'll feature what our playmakers d o best. If that's more run than pass, we'll run the ball. All I care about is getting the ball in the end zone. It's the end result that matters.
I understand that's why people buy tickets and come to games - so they can agree or disagree. I have a job to do and it's a big job. I try to stay a play ahead and I don't look back on the previous play. It's easy to criticize because it doesn't take a lot of talent to do that. It's after the fact. All I worry about is what's in front of me.
QUESTION: You're philosophy is to take ``two shots a quarter,'' and players' eyes light up when they talk about attacking defenses down the field. How important is it to take shots deep down the field?
COACH TAAFFE: It's based on what the defense is doing, but hopefully some of those two-a-quarter shots you are going to hit on some of them. If you hit two of eight in a game that's two big plays. You have to take some chances and stretch the field. You have to give yourself chances to make plays down the field.
And in today's football, the defenses have gotten so much better that it's hard to drive the ball 10, 11, 12 plays down the field, so you need to generate chunk plays. You're trying to shorten the field and not have to drive it double-digit plays every time.
QUESTION: OK, quick-hit questions, now ... Who are some of the biggest surprises of camp so far?
COACH TAAFFE: On the offensive line, Ian Bustillo has done a great job not just playing, but he's the signal-caller of the offensive line. With the receivers, Rocky Ross has been extremely dependable and Kamar Aiken has shown the big-play ability that he had early in his career. And Brynn Harvey has had an outstanding preseason. Jah Reid has done a good job upfront.
QUESTION: Where has quarterback Rob Calabrese's biggest jump been from his freshman season?
COACH TAAFFE: With Rob, I'd still like to see him get more consistent. He's young, but I see him getting closer to the poise that we need. He's a physical kid and you don't want to take that away, but he needs a balance between being aggressive and staying poised and balanced.
Mentally, he's understanding things better and the game is slowing down for him. He has better knowledge of the reads and he's gotten more accurate. He was a 40-percent passer a year ago and he's made improvement out here. The last scrimmage we had, he was 12-of-16. Those are little tests along the way, but the ultimate test is on Saturday on game day. Rob's making good progress. But hopefully we can get Brett Hodges in there to play some too.
QUESTION: What part of coaching do you still enjoy the most?
COACH TAAFFE: I've been at this (profession) a long time and I still love it. The passion is still there. I still enjoy the tactics of putting an offense together and the interpersonal relationships you develop with the players. It's all about the players, and I'd be the happiest guy in the world to see them have some success Saturday night because they've worked hard and they deserve it. Coaching is still a lot of fun for me.
John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.