On the heels of Willie Taggart’s dismissal from the Florida State coaching staff, the program announced Tuesday that Jim Leavitt has been promoted to an on-field defensive assistant, taking on a lot of the defensive responsibility from current interim head coach, Odell Haggins.
The school released an official statement Tuesday night that reads:
“Jim Leavitt will fill the Seminoles’ vacant countable coaching role as an assistant on the defensive side of the ball, interim head coach Odell Haggins announced Tuesday.
The NCAA permits each team to have 11 countable coaches, including the head coach. Those coaches are the only staff members permitted to recruit off-campus and, along with four graduate assistants, to provide on-field instruction.”
Leavitt has been a part of the seminole football staff for a majority of the season in an off-field role as a defensive analyst, and has been a key reason in the gradual improvement of the defensive effort this year.
This new role will allow him to interact with players during the game and at practice as well as play an active role in recruiting.
Leavitt is a proven defensive force who rose to prominence in college coaching, as the original architect and head coach of USF program in the late 1990s. The Bulls made NCAA FBS history becoming the first school ever to move to FBS after fewer than four seasons of existence. He led South Florida to a No. 2 national ranking in 2007.
Leavitt was fired in January of 2010 after controversy at USF over him allegedly striking a player at halftime of a game that 2009 season. The school, led by athletic director Doug Woolard, attempted to claim that the firing was for cause, and that Leavitt had attempted to cover up the incident and change witness and the accuser’s stories. The school then tried to not pay him any of his remaining salary.
Leavitt sued the school, and the two sides eventually reached a settlement a year later, where he was paid a reported $2.75 million dollars from his remaining contract.
From the Bulls, Leavitt coached in the NFL as a linebackers coach with the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. And then, he later coached a season at Colorado, as their defensive coordinator. Next, he came to Oregon to join Taggart, when he took that job two years ago.
FFI contributor, Matt Zemek, wrote earlier this week that there is certainly a case for replacing Taggart with Leavitt as head coach on a short term contract, with the option of extending if all goes well.
It’s not a perfect solution but it might work in the interest of saving money and getting through the next couple of season on a low budget from buying out Taggart’s contract. Leavitt would be grateful just to have a chance to re-enter the head coaching game, which would enable him to accept a lower level of compensation in a 2020 trial run. If he does well enough, FSU could reward him down the line… but not up front.
This move to DC could be the first step for Leavitt to get back into head coaching, and could be a win-win for both him and the Noles.
He’s got three remaining games this season to prove his worth, starting with their road match against Boston College this Saturday. If they win two of the last three games, the Seminoles will be again be bowl eligible, which will hopefully send FSU into the offseason with momentum as they prepare for a rebuilding year in 2020.
Cristobal Oregon Rose Bowl win reminder of what Taggart left
Aas the Oregon Ducks celebrated a Rose Bowl victory New Year’s night in Pasadena, one angle to think about was the events of the last couple of years, as it relates to Willie Taggart abandoning their program just one year in, but Mario Cristobal staying behind and leading them to great things.
First, the Ducks won a thrilling 28 – 27 addition of the New Year’s Day classic over Wisconsin to cap off a 12 – 2 season. NFL prospect quarterback Justin Herbert threw for three touchdowns and ran for the eventual game-winning score in the win:
Justin Herbert showing he has wheels too 💨 pic.twitter.com/sgeEfZjuGj
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2020
And, off the heels of a Pac-12 Championship upset of Utah a month ago, Cristobal is now “riding high” with the momentum of one of the best football brands in the West.
He posted later on Wednesday night a special thank you to the Duck fans and alumni for now being part of the program and their success:
— Mario Cristobal (@coach_cristobal) January 2, 2020
Interestingly, his connection to come to Eugene was Taggart being hired three years ago at this time. The former USF coach needed someone that understood offense and recruiting and brought the former FIU coach, Cristobal with him to the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon had some success but also suffered five losses, and the next thing you knew Taggart jumped at the chance to take over at Florida State. There were many who reported and believed that Taggart wanted to bring Cristobal and defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, with him to the Seminoles.
However, Oregon AD Rob Mullens was so impressed with Cristobal in the interview process and having seen him up close for year with the team, that he ended up promoting him to be the head coach. And, he gave Leavitt a fat raise to remain, as the defensive coordinator in Eugene.
And, as it turns out, that sunk Taggart from the very beginning on having two former head coaches to come and help him not only with the X’s and O’s but with recruiting in Florida which they are both Masters at.
Instead, Florida State completely unraveled in just a few short weeks of play in 2018 Cristobal helped the Ducks get to a bowl game.
And, that led to this season and great anticipation as Oregon opened at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium the home of the Cowboys with powerhouse Auburn. Auburn beat the Ducks with a touchdown in the final seconds, but it would be their only loss for the next 10 weeks.
In the meantime, Taggart got himself further in trouble with early-season losses and eventually fired on November 3rd after a 27 – 10 defeat to the Miami Hurricanes at home.
And as we stated above, the Oregon team excelled when it mattered the most establishing itself, again as the team to beat in the Pac-12 with their two postseason wins.
Now, FSU has gone on to replace Taggart with the very successful Memphis coach, Mike Norvell, and there is some optimism about his arrival in the Panhandle.
With Norvell in charge in 2020, the Seminoles will likely open with a win total of 6.5, down a game from last season according to this site here. And, while Norvell is a solid hire, FSU has its usual tough slate next season hosting Clemson and Florida, while facing Miami and Boise State on the road. The Noles are likely to be underdogs in another road date with resurgent Louisville too.
So, coming off a 6-7 year, FSU should consider it a success to have this team over .500 in his first season.
Now, back to Cristobal.
There is an argument that Oregon may not have enjoyed the same success with Taggart as the head coach, as they did with Cristobal taking over. Still, with Herbert at quarterback, it’s very likely that Oregon would have at least had a seven or eight wins season in each of the last couple of years and going to a bowl game again.
Do they go 12-2, win the Pac 12 and eventually, the Rose Bowl with Taggart? That’s a stretch to believe after how dismally he coached in Tallahassee.
And, since his firing, Taggart scrambled to find the head coaching job at Conference USA, Florida Atlantic, while Cristobal is looking at a significant raise to be at a Powerhouse Pac-12 program after a Rose Bowl win.
It’s a perfect example of a cliche in sports, that: “sometimes the best move, is one that you don’t make.”
Taggart should have never left Oregon and Cristobal was smart not to.
And, eventually, he ended up the head coach.
A head coach who was holding up a Rose Bowl trophy with his team in Pasadena Wednesday night
FSU turned in one last awful 2019 performance in Sun Bowl
If Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve afternoon Sun Bowl was supposed to be a tone-setter for 2020 and new head coach Mike Norvell, the Seminoles once again failed.
A six turnover day, including the go-ahead pick-6 being thrown by quarterback James Blackman, basically summed up the entire season as Arizona State beat FSU 20 – 14 in El Paso, TX.
The Noles could not take advantage of breaks and opportunities they were given early to put points on the board and that would come back to haunt them at the end.
The now 8 – 5 Sun Devils fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and FSU was set up for an easy touchdown. However, Blackman gave the gift right back, throwing his first of four interceptions on the day in the end zone, and Arizona State avoided giving up any points at all.
Later in the first quarter, FSU had a Ricky Aguayo short field goal blocked keeping them scoreless throughout the first half. Meanwhile, Christian Zendejas kicked three Sun Devil field goals for a 9 – 0 lead at the break.
Finally FSU, finishing 6-7, got something going in the second half using a trick play to help set them up. That’s when backup QB Jordan Travis threw a backwards pass to Blackman behind the line, and he threw back to Travis for an 18 yard gain that put the Seminoles at the 3-yard line.
Backup running back Ontaria Wilson, playing for Cam Akers who’d already declared for the NFL, scored on the next play and for the first Florida State points.
Following an Arizona State punt, lightning struck, when Blackman hit Tamorrion Terry, who raced the rest of the way for a 91 yard touchdown to put FSU up for the first time in the game 14 – 9. But, Zendejas added another field goal with 12 minutes remaining to trim the lead to 14 – 12.
And, that set the stage for more Florida State bumbling and miscues. With FSU back on offense and after picking up a first down, Blackman threw another pick on a play where it looked like the receiver ran the wrong route. ASU’s Willie Hearts ran the INT back 25 yards for a touchdown and the Sun Devils got the two-point conversion for a 20 – 14 lead.
Amazingly, Florida state would get the ball three more times in the final 10 minutes with a chance to get a winning touchdown. But, they lost the ball on downs, then Blackman was intercepted again, and finally, in the final two minutes Terry fumbled after a handoff with Arizona State’s Tyler Johnson recovering to clinch the game.
It is the first time since the 1975 – 76 seasons that Florida state has finished with back-to-back losing campaigns. The 1976 season was the first for Hall of Fame coach, Bobby Bowden.
And, the Noles can only hope that as the calendar flips at midnight Tuesday night, that they can put the disastrous two-year Willie Taggart era behind them. And, look forward to what the former very successful Memphis coach, Norvell, can bring to rejuvenate things in Tallahassee.
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