Florida State’s newest defensive analyst Jim Leavitt wasted no time stepping into his new role, as he was seen at practice the morning after his job was announced. This is good news for the seminole’s defense as they are just a couple of days away from facing their biggest challenge of the season thus far against conference opponent, Virginia.
First look at Jim Leavitt, @FSUFootball’s new senior defensive analyst, at practice on Thursday morning. Willie Taggart worked with Leavitt at Oregon, and this morning called Leavitt “a great addition to our football staff.” pic.twitter.com/oP1TxiQXWX
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) September 12, 2019
FSU head coach Willie Taggart spoke to the media Thursday morning about the new addition to his staff and what that is going to mean for the FSU football team.
He reinforced multiple times that this change was going to have an immediate positive effect on the team, and the defensive staff is fully behind the choice.
“I think it’s a great addition to our football staff to get someone of that quality and that experience to be in that defensive role… someone that coach Barnett and the other defensive coaches can lean on…His knowledge of defense and understanding defense and his experience by itself is going to help ” He added, “I talked to coach Barnett and told him my thinking… and he was excited it would help our football team. Whenever we can help our football team and help ourselves get better, then we’re going to try to do that.”
Taggart initially tried to get Leavitt on staff before the season after Oregon coach Mario Cristobal decided to dismiss Leavitt after his two seasons in Eugene. Leavitt did get a handsome buyout that was contingent on whether he coaches and in what role in 2019 and 2020.
Though it never panned out earlier this year, Taggart said that now was the “right timing.” When asked how he reached back out to Leavitt he simply said, “It’s something we’d talked about before and I picked up the phone and called and [Leavitt] said ‘Absolutely.’”
It couldn’t be come at a better time for Taggart, whose team allowed 80 points and more than 1,000 yards combined only two games into the season. To say he’s in the “hot seat” in Tallahassee would be an understatement. And it’s only going to get hotter as they face head into their first conference game of the season.
Taggart is well aware of how much is a stake in the next couple of weeks, starting this weekend. But, he’s now got a proven defensive force on staff who could begin to tighten up some of FSU’s loose ends on defense before Saturday.
“He’s here, and Virginias here, and they’re a really good football team. We got our hands full so we’ve got to get ready for them.”
Argument for keeping Odell Haggins as FSU coach
As FSU enters their second week of trying to solve their coaching vacancy situation, the best immediate solution maybe staring right at them in interim coach, Odell Haggins.
Haggins oversaw Florida State’s dramatic 38-31 win at Boston College Saturday, which coupled with his two victories as interim coach at the end of the 2017 season has already demonstrated, in a small sample, that he has promise as a head coach. FSU will play FCS Alabama State Saturday and will likely win easily and assure themselves of a bowl game, too.
As for the search, there are three important factors in the Seminoles interviewing for the replacement for Willie Taggart.
One, the leadership in Tallahassee needs to bring stability to the program. The departure of Jimbo Fisher to take a more lucrative job in the SEC with Texas A&M and then with the dismal results from Taggart, who had only coached in a Power 5 situation for one year at Oregon, have the Noles in turmoil.
Florida State needs someone who can calm and reassure players, potential recruits, boosters and anyone else, that they’re going to get back to their winning ways. Preferably, someone who’s been there.
Two, FSU has to be concerned in the short-term with recruits “bailing on them” due to the uncertainty the coaching situation. The early signing period is coming in the second week in December. And, Florida State, right now, has one of the top 5 recruiting classes for next year in the country. But that could evaporate over the course of the next 21 days, if they are not reassured.
And finally, what can the Seminoles actually afford? With Taggart’s massive buyout, believed to be $17 million or so and the fact that FSU will have to likely buyout an established head coach for more significant money, and then, pay their salary, money is definitely a concern in the short-term.
So when you analyze Haggins, who’s been an assistant coach or a player at Florida State for 30 years, he is a solid “yes” on all three of those, above.
He would clearly bring stability, as he is Florida State through and through, including being part of Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher’s National Championship staffs/teams.
Two, Haggins has been intimately involved in FSU recruiting for the last two decades. He helped hold the recruiting class together two years ago in December, when Fisher left. And, he has been instrumental in talking to recruits right now during the transition period for the next coach.
And finally, the money concerns could be alleviated, at least on a short-term basis, with hiring Haggins as the coach. He will cost significantly less to promote than the names like Mark Stoops, Mike Norvell, etc. would cost.
FSU could explore even a one or two-year option on a deal with their longtime defensive line assistant, and Haggins would probably be willing to do it for all of the reasons above. This would also be a good short term option in keeping the staff together, like offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, and potentially, elevating Jim Leavitt to defensive coordinator, if they/Haggins would like.
Again, Florida State may be able to land a proven head coach coming up and afford their buyout.
But, if they are not able to do that in short order, Odell Haggins appears to be an excellent option to continue to bring short-term stability and success that’s affordable.
And those are three “wins” that FSU needs right now, too.
FSU played with pride Saturday in Boston
The Florida State Seminoles were playing for more than pride on Saturday… but pride is exactly what the Seminoles had to show against the Boston College Eagles.
Yes, a win was needed to get the Noles to a bowl game. That was a very important goal for this season, to give young players a chance to develop. Making a bowl game was even more vital for the Seminoles because a two-year streak WITHOUT a bowl bid would have been supremely humiliating for the program and its fans.
Thirty-six straight seasons with a bowl, and then two straight without one? That would have been difficult to carry through the winter and the rest of the offseason.
Yet, if a possible 6-6 season instead became a likely 5-7 season with a loss in New England, it is not as though the future of Florida State football would have been profoundly or irrevocably altered.
Florida State doesn’t play college football seasons to gain bowl eligibility. Florida State plays to win division and conference championships and play in New Year’s Six bowl games. Florida State plays to be at the top of the sport.
Worrying about missing a trip to Shreveport is not a primary concern for FSU players or fans. If that is the most urgent question in November, a season has clearly fallen far short of its hopes and expectations.
What we haven’t always seen from this team – and what needed to emerge against Boston College – was that one thing: PRIDE. Pride in not accepting mediocrity.
Pride in pushing past difficult circumstances of Willie Taggart being fired six days ago and an interim head coaching situation.
Pride in playing hard no matter how grim the outlook was.
Down 14-3 to Boston College midway through the first half, everyone on that visiting sideline in Chestnut Hill could have quit. Everyone could have packed it in. Everyone could have become resigned to the notion that this was a lost season with no hope or purpose.
All of us arrive at one moment – if not many more – in this life when we get kicked around and need to decide if we want to get back up.
The Florida State team and coaching staff did just that.
Interim coach Odell Haggins wouldn’t let his players quit. They fought back and took a 10-point lead.
Then, another FSU demon surfaced: the fourth quarter. A season marked by so many fourth-quarter failures was on the verge of becoming a house of even more horrors. Boston College erased a 24-14 deficit to forge a 24-24 tie with 2:33 left.
Panic, frailty, hesitation – they all could have reentered the picture at that point in time.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 9, 2019
Then the defense and Stanford Samuels III came up with a clutch interception. Florida State added another touchdown just for good measure.
Down 14-3, FSU outscored Boston College 35-17 the rest of the way, winning 38-31. When the Noles beat Alabama State, they will officially clinch a bowl bid.
Odell Haggins inspired pride in his players. Now he has a moment which he will cherish.
So do the Florida State Seminoles, who found a brief moment of sunshine in a very difficult season.
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