FSU’s defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett should be open to any help he can get after two less-than-stellar performances by the Seminoles defense in their first two games. And luckily for him, he will be getting some help from proven coach, Jim Leavitt, as he’s joining staff as a defensive analyst.
SOURCE: #FSU is hiring Jim Leavitt as an analyst. He is expected to help DC Harlon Barnett by bringing another experienced voice in the def. staff room to aid w/ game-planning. Leavitt was Willie Taggart’s DC when he took an Oregon D that ranked No. 115 and improved it to No. 32.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) September 11, 2019
This huge addition to the staff comes at a crucial time for head coach Willie Taggart, whose team allowed 80 points and more than 1,000 yards combined only two games into the season.
As Leavitt said on a “24/7 Sports” podcast in May about the prospect of consulting for Florida State:
“Well, you just said it — I don’t have a job — so I’m interested in anything,” Leavitt said with a laugh. “When you’re not working, you’re always going to listen to anybody that might present an opportunity for you.”
“I’ve moved on and settled with Oregon. I’m in a good position right now, been able to travel and see some places. I’m really just taking this opportunity to travel around and see a lot of people I know, watch spring ball, talk about defense to quite a few people and get better at what I do. A lot of times you don’t have the opportunity to do that.”
We wrote previously about Oregon and coach Mario Cristobal, deciding to dismiss Leavitt after his two seasons in Eugene. Leavitt did get a handsome buyout that is contingent on whether he coaches and in what role in 2019 and 2020.
He could choose to “consult,” not unlike what former Tennessee coach Butch Jones did with Alabama last year after being fired by the Vols. Also, fired Arkansas college coach, Bret Bielema “consulted” with the Patriots during their Super Bowl winning 2018 season, while being paid by the Hogs.
Leavitt 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.
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.
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 in 2017.
The connection of Taggart and Leavitt is an interesting one that goes back to Taggart’s playing days at Bradenton Manatee High School, when Leavitt recruited him to play at USF.
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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