TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The first player Willie Taggart called on his way to Florida State in December got an earful from the incoming head coach, and it had nothing to with learning a new scheme or playbook. Taggart bluntly told quarterback Deondre Francois, "As soon as I get off the plane, I expect you to be a leader."
Francois understood what his coach said, but it remains a work in progress. Since Taggart arrived, Francois has been involved in two incidents involving police, though he was not arrested in either case.
In January, police were called to his home after he got into a domestic dispute with his pregnant girlfriend. No charges were filed. Then earlier this month, police raided his apartment and cited him for marijuana possession after they surveilled him for two months following an anonymous tip and found 17 grams of marijuana (just more than half an ounce), operating on a tip he was selling the drug, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Taggart said the team is handling the situation internally but made it clear he once again had to spell out his expectations for Francois. "Deondre knows he needs to be better at decision-making, and he knows he has to do a great job of who he's around and what he's around," Taggart said.
The day before the latest incident, Francois sat down with ESPN for a 30-minute interview in which he discussed his leadership, Taggart's emphasis on accountability and his rehab from a left knee injury suffered in September. Reiterating what Taggart has continually said, Francois said he learned from the domestic dispute: "I learned that I need to watch my back and pick my crowd wisely, and that's the same thing Coach Taggart was telling me -- pick the people you choose to hang around and make sure they're the right people. That's about all I learned from that situation."
As for becoming a better leader, Francois said, "I don't feel like I have to be more of a leader. I feel like I have to continue to be myself because everybody leads in different ways. With the leadership attributes I have, I feel I can lead in different ways. I lead from inside our team. Everybody on our team understands where I come from, and I feel I can relate to every player."
Despite not playing last season after his season-ending patellar tendon injury in the opener against Alabama, Francois has made headlines for some of his actions. While rehabbing, he missed the Seminoles' win over Delaware State on Nov. 18. Francois said he cleared the trip home to Orlando, Florida, with former assistant Randy Sanders and his teammates. He said his mother had a family emergency, and he had to choose between missing either the Delaware State game or the Florida game the next weekend.
Asked whether he has regrets over the way he handled it, Francois said, "Nah. I feel like the media brought it out of perspective. When you leave, you inform before so everything was fine. Those are the only people I care about, how my teammates feel and how my coaches feel -- and my teammates were fine. Everybody's opinion I got on it said they would have done the same thing."
But that decision raised some questions about his leadership. "I was one of those people, too, questioning his leadership," Taggart said.
Then when former coach Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M, Francois tweeted out, "No call, no text, you could of said something ..." His tweet went viral.
"That was just a song lyric from a song, but I wasn't necessarily upset in the way that he left," Francois said. "I understood the situation and I understood the business of college football and coaching. I've seen so many coaching changes, and I respect Jimbo for what he's done at Florida State. I'd never try to tarnish his reputation around here.
"There's always coaches changing every offseason. The situation he was in, I understand why he went to Texas A&M. That has to do with his family. He has to make decisions for his family because that's what comes first. I understood what was going on."
When Taggart arrived, he put a new emphasis on accountability for the entire team, something players say was missing under Fisher. Taggart instituted "dawn patrol," a practice he started when he was at USF.
The team is divided into 10 accountability groups, and each player in the group has to make sure to attend classes, meetings, weight sessions and other mandatory requirements. If one player in the group misses something, the entire group has to come to the facility at 6 a.m. the next morning. The player who missed has to run, while his group watches. If, however, a player misses a class or academic requirement, then everybody has to run.
Francois admits he did one dawn patrol early on that was not academics related. Because he couldn't run because of his knee injury, his accountability group watched as he did "pencil rolls" -- rolling over up and down the field. "It makes your head and stomach hurt at the same time," Francois said. "Once you do it only once, you learn your lesson. That's why it's good he's bringing in the discipline."
Taggart also has made team dinners required three nights a week, as a way to help foster team bonding and growth. Francois says he has used those dinners as an opportunity to learn from defensive teammates.
In these areas, Taggart says he has seen a marked difference.
"It's pretty cool to see him come around and start to gain some positive feedback from his teammates," Taggart told ESPN. "Like I told him, I know you can play football. I don't need you to impress me. I need you to impress your teammates. That's what I'm looking for. That's what we're looking for daily. I don't think it's going to happen overnight. I know this football team wants him to be consistent. He'll tell you I want my teammates to know I'll lay it on the line for them, and we talk about: You can't talk about it, you've got to be about it. They've got to see it, and that's a daily thing, not a sometimes thing. It's coming."