Joe Taylor was more than 30 minutes late to the All Temple AME Church in Tampa.
His spring flight from Tallahassee was delayed, and the first-year FAMU coach learned why Tampa drivers pound their dashboards on those Friday afternoon drives along Interstate 275.
Taylor could have canceled the speaking engagement, but his 25 seasons of head coaching experience told him going to the church in Ybor City was important. He wanted to look into the eyes of FAMU's biggest supporters. They, in turn, wanted to judge with their own ears if the man addressing them could revive FAMU into the fearsome power it once was.
Taylor spoke to about 40 people spread out on fold-out chairs behind a few rows of tables. As the hot wings grew cold and the cold cuts grew warm, they listened intently to the aging man in glasses talk about football, life and his plan for success.
On most of their minds: How would FAMU rebound from what had been a promising season that quickly fell to pieces?
The Rattlers began the season 2-2 but unraveled after starting quarterback Albert Chester quit, citing his mounting health problems. FAMU lost six of its final seven games, including 34-7 to Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic.
Rubin Carter was fired as coach Nov. 20 after a 3-8 season. Chester never told Carter he intended to quit, and he admitted he was unhappy with some of Carter's decisions.
FAMU cited losing as the reason to dispose of Carter. But even Florida State coach Bobby Bowden questioned the timing of FAMU's decision, which came after Carter's only losing season. He went a combined 13-9 in his first two seasons, winning a pair of Florida Classics.
Taylor said when he took the job it was for the challenge of turning around a program. He already had renovated a pair of programs in his career, first at Eastern Illinois then at Hampton.
In Taylor, FAMU found a Hall of Fame coach with a solid resume. His teams have had only two losing seasons in 25 years, giving him a career record of 197-76-4 with five MEAC championships (three consecutive from 2004-06).
Offensively, sophomore Eddie Battle, who replaced Chester, will continue to lead the team. He completed 47 of 80 passes for 537 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in five games last season.
Taylor's teams have been noted for their running game, and the Rattlers return MEAC rookie of the year Philip Sylvester. He ran for 858 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games and this season will be behind a starting offensive line — with four juniors and a sophomore — considered the most experienced piece on the team.
Defensively, the Rattlers have a young, talented line anchored by sophomore Kendrick Washington. Several sophomores are vying for playing time. The lone senior starter on defense is middle linebacker Vernon Wilder, who had a team-high 87 tackles last season.
There are plenty of questions surrounding him and the secondary.
"We are youthful up front," associate head coach George Small said. "But they're so talented, I think we can close the gap.
"What they demonstrated this spring, they're not too far off."
Izzy Gould can be reached at izzy firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 580-5315.