Amidst most Florida State fans happiness with the hire of Willie Taggart on Tuesday, was the belief that he would be bringing his top assistants to Tallahassee with him. The key one of those is his defensive coordinator this past season in Eugene, and fellow former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt.
However, on Wednesday morning, it’s still uncertain on when and if Leavitt can and will join the new Noles coach. More on that in a bit.
First, the quick bio/update on the Ducks current defensive coordinator and his Florida background.
Leavitt, after all, not only built USF from nothing starting in 1997 into a Division one force 10 years later (they were ranked #2 in the AP), but is also very well known as a big time recruiter in the state. And, this goes back to the early 1990’s when he scored big time recruits while co-defensive coordinator for Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
Once he got the Bulls job, Leavitt built his roster almost entirely with players from the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida.
After being fired by USF with controversy over whether he struck a player in the locker room at halftime of a game. Leavitt went to the NFL as linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14. He was part of their run to the Super Bowl in 2012.
After Jim Harbaugh was dismissed in San Fran in 2014, Leavitt spent two years as the Colorado defensive coordinator, including 2015, where they went to the Pac-12 Title Game.
Then, he hooked up with Taggart, after a strong recommendation from Jim Harbaugh to stay in the Pac-12 and coach the defense at Oregon this past season.
So now, what’s his situation?
The belief is that Leavitt wants to join Taggart at FSU and resume the Florida recruiting trail but this time with the leverage and the talent to choose from that the Noles bring, as a power house program. And, there have been numerous reports in the last 48 hours that he would be leaving.
This includes a report in the Portland Oregonian yesterday afternoon that Leavitt would be joining Taggart.
Furher, another popular Tallahassee outlet flat out put it out there Tuesday evening:
Jim Leavitt following Willie Taggart to FSU to become defensive coordinator https://t.co/hRxjhY3vZn
— Tomahawk Nation (@Tomahawknation) December 5, 2017
But, in the words of former FSU assistant coach turned ESPN TV legend, Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend.”
Oregon AD Rob Mullens made it clear in his news conference in Eugue Tuesday afternoon that Leavitt and the other assistants aren’t going anywhere, for now. In fact, he promoted Taggart’s offensive coordinator and former FIU head coach, Mario Cristobal, as the interim coach for the Ducks bowl game.
And further, Mullens informed everyone that every Ducks assistant, including Leavitt, has it in their contract that they cannot leave for any other assistant’s job until the Oregon season is over, including their bowl game.
That is the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State on Saturday December 16th.
10 days from now.
As for Leavitt, he spent the weekend through Tuesday on the recruiting trail. In fact, even with rumors swirling everywhere that Taggart was negotiating with the Noles, Leavitt tweeted that he was flying all over the place Monday and Tuesday to visit Duck defensive recruits:
Had our awards banquet tonight. Really went well. Players had a good time. Heading out tomorrow. Oregon, Vegas, Denver and Ohio. Then back to get ready for Bowl Game. Go Ducks!
— Jim Leavitt (@CoachJimLeavitt) December 4, 2017
He followed through and visited face to face with high school players all way through Tuesday night. This was even with Taggart having been announced as the new FSU coach and having informed the current Ducks players in a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Then, with the above reporting everywhere that it was a “given” Leavitt was guaranteed to be joining Taggart in the Florida panhandle coming up, Leavitt took to Twitter, again last night:
Always been honest. Never have I mislead. Have great passion for the Ducks! Want to be a HC someday again Lord willing. Flying back tomorrow but tonight with my girls.
— Jim Leavitt (@CoachJimLeavitt) December 5, 2017
We at F.F.I. take the “Never have I mislead” to mean: he’s not misleading the recruits that he was meeting with face to face, about Leavitt staying on at Oregon, while planning to be gone later in the month to FSU.
And you take into account that Leavitt cannot leave, anyway, for now, due to his deal with Oregon and the debate deepens.
Will the Ducks push hard for Cristobal to get the full time job? Probably.
Might Leavitt get consideration for head coach in Eugene, as he referenced? Perhaps, but a longer shot on that.
Might Mullens and Oregon pony up big money (they have it) to give Leavitt a new deal and keep him? Stronger maybe on that point.
Will Jim Leavitt be joining Willie Taggart and FSU to recruit in these next two weeks before the December 20th early signing day? Absolutely, not.
Is he waiting out the 10 days that he has to and is in fact misleading Oregon recruits about him going to FSU? Could be.
Now, we watch and wait.
No, Florida State is not getting rid of Willie Taggart
As our headline clearly presents, we interrupt the chaos and fantasy of those anti-Willie Taggart Florida State fans, who believe that somehow, he is not going to be their coach for the next couple of seasons.
Yes, it is bad right now for Florida State for several reasons. As our Matt Zemek laid out after Saturday’s blowout loss at Syracuse, you can only blame Jimbo Fisher for so much of it. And, because Taggart is in charge, he now will have to bear the brunt of whatever else goes on the next few games and to the end of 2018.
On Monday, Taggart met with the media and read from a prepared statement trying to reassure Florida State fans that the Noles will be better, and soon. Sure, there were many looking at that press conference and saying he doesn’t know what to do. However, FSU is only 1-2 with a winnable game coming this Saturday.
And, fundamentally, one of the things holding them back are talented skill players that must be addressed immediately; the play of the offensive line. And as this article in the Tallahassee Democrat lays out, the Noles do not have a lot of options currently, in terms of new or better personnel.
Still, offensive line coach Greg Frey is very experienced at several other major programs and obviously, offensive coordinator Walt Bell has worked and called plays and had success in major college programs.
So, the belief that those two can improve the scheme and the blocking has to be there for the FSU faithful.
Now for the silliness that Taggart may only last one season.
That’s what it is, silliness.
He would be due over 21 million dollars in a contract buyout, if he was fired after this year, which Florida state would never pay at this stage.
Further complicating the situation, Florida State’s AD Stan Wilcox, who did the deal with Taggart last December to bring him from Oregon to Tallahassee, is leaving next month for a position with the NCAA. So, the Seminoles new athletic director, yet to be hired, will have to probably be given a season to evaluate Taggart and that is going to be 2019.
And it’s important to remember the Taggart had a 2 – 10 record his first year at USF, but eventually turned them into a 10-win and bowl game winning program before leaving for the Pac-12 two years ago.
Now, Taggart did win a couple of games early in the Oregon season last year to take the pressure off, but still finished just 7-5, leaving before the Ducks bowl game.
So, perhaps the FSU offense will imporve this week against Northern Illinois, at least enough for Florida State to try and salvage a five or six wins season.
But, if it does not, Willie Taggart is still not going anywhere.
FSU’s “Rag-tag” Taggart team tagged, flagged and bagged Saturday
Jimbo Fisher left behind a big mess. That’s what Week 1 taught the college football world about Florida State.
Week 2 against Samford, as bad as it was, nevertheless represented a game being played five days after the emotionally draining Virginia Tech opener. Young men — or old NFL veterans — are not supposed to play a violent sport twice in a span of roughly 120 hours. One can give FSU a full pass for that game. It contained very little real-world value in identifying what is right or wrong with this team.
But Week 3? On the road? With a full week of rest and relatively normal game-preparation circumstances? Against a Syracuse program which has struggled to play defense and struggled to win with any consistency over the past 15 years?
This was the time for Willie Taggart to show that, as much as Jimbo left him with a toxic cleanup site and insufficient hazmat gear, the Seminoles’ new coaching staff could manage a problematic situation and make necessary adjustments.
This was the week to show that damage control could define a season in which no one expected Florida State to be great. This project was all about the pursuit of competence and steadiness — not the dominance of old (that is a goal which always existed beyond this season’s capacities), but merely finding one’s footing as a program and setting the stage for 2019.
Instead, the Seminoles were “tagged” by Syracuse running for 231 yards, were “flagged” for 10 penalties, and the offense was “bagged,” by going a horrible 1-14 on third down, and being shutout deep into the fourth quarter.
Syracuse dominated Florida State 30-7. And, the blank stares from Taggart out onto the field shown on TV Saturday are only going to make Noles fans more venomous than they were before this one kicked off.
After this colossal failure in the Carrier Dome, Florida State has no footing.
It is sinking in quicksand… and its coach currently appears paralyzed in his attempt to do anything about it.
FSU likely looking at high scoring-“track meet” at Syracuse
In what is the most prominent game of the weekend involving state school teams, FSU limps into the Carrier Dome for a Saturday noon game with Syracuse.
With growing concern about Coach Willie Taggart just two games in, the Noles need some positive things to happen and try to find a way to come out of Western New York with a victory.
One thing is obvious, Florida State’s defense is in disarray and with Syracuse having a powerful dual-threat quarterback, the Seminoles will likely have to win in a high-scoring “track meet” type game.
Even though Florida State played better in the second half defensively in both of their home games with Virginia Tech and Samford last week, there’s still real cause for concern.
For example, short week or not, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 475 yards on the FSU defense and receiver Kelvin McKnight had a career night at Doak Campbell with 14 catches, 215 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Yes, Florida State slowed the Bulldogs down in the second half holding them only to one field goal. And did register four interceptions of Hodges. Still the most Ardent FSU supporters have to be concerned that Florida State has given up an average of 422 yards and 25 points in their first two games.
As for the ‘Cuse, QB Eric Dungey (above) is probably a better runner than passer, and the Orange have gone over 450 yards in both of their opening games while scoring 107 points.
Now, the quality of competition was Wagner and Western Michigan, but still yards are yards and points are points.
New FSU defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett has got to find some answers for the read option and Dungey’s Mobility. Unfortunately, Florida State doesn’t have the usual talented physical and fast front seven that fans have been accustomed to in Tallahassee over the years.
So more than likely, quarterback Deondre Francois, running back Cam Akers and receiver Nyquan Murray are going to have to help put a lot of points up on the board, if Florida State hopes to get out of the Dome with a much-needed ACC win
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