FootballSports

Willie Taggart leaving Oregon to become head coach at Florida State



After one season as Oregon head football coach, Willie Taggart will leave the program to take the head football coaching position at Florida State.

On Tuesday, multiple reporters, ranging from the Oregonian’s John Canzano to Fox’s Bruce Feldman and former ESPN staffer Brett McMurphy, all cited sources who confirmed Taggart’s exit.

Oregon confirmed the news in a press release on Tuesday afternoon and confirmed that co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal would take over as interim head coach.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported that Taggart’s contract with Florida State is for $30 million over six years.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is also reportedly heading to Florida State with Taggart.

Oregon offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal watches the offensive linemen warm up before the game. The Oregon Ducks host the Oregon State Beavers for the 121st Civil War at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)

“We thank Willie for his efforts at Oregon, and we wish him and his family all the best in the future,” athletic director Rob Mullens said in the release. “I am grateful to Mario Cristobal for his willingness to step up and lead our program through our upcoming bowl game. The University of Oregon is a high-caliber academic institution with one of the premier college football programs in the country, and we are confident that we will find another outstanding coach to lead our tremendous group of student-athletes into the future.”

Since the announcement, multiple recruits have decommitted from Oregon, reopening their recruitment.

It was widely reported in the previous weeks that Florida State would target Taggart if Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher left the program, which he did on Friday.

Fisher, Florida State’s head coach since 2010, left the Seminoles for Texas A&M after leading the Seminoles to a 6-6 record this season. He compiled an 84-23 record at Florida State and won the BCS National Championship game in 2013.

Oregon has the week off from practice because of finals, so Taggart and his coaching staff hit the road to recruit. He was in Arizona on Monday morning.  The Gainesville Sun then reported that Florida State was finalizing a deal with Taggart that would include Leavitt. That report was refuted by Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports and later corrected.

Taggart, a Bradenton, Fla. native, coached at South Florida from 2013-16 before arriving in Eugene to coach the Ducks. The move to Florida State will bring him back to his home state.

Taggart was Oregon’s first outside hire since 1977, and he was also the Ducks’ first African-American head coach. In his one year at Oregon, Taggart led the Ducks to a 7-5 record following a 4-8 season in 2016 that saw Oregon fire its head coach Mark Helfrich.

The Oregon Ducks host the Oregon State Beavers for the 121st Civil War at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)

The past week has been fueled with rumors of Taggart’s exit from Oregon. On Nov. 29, reports surfaced that Taggart could replace Fisher if he were to leave for Texas A&M, which he did on Dec. 1.

Oregon reportedly offered Taggart a new contract of $20 million over five years a week before the Civil War on Nov. 25. Taggart will make $2.9 million this year in the first year of his four-year, $16 million contract he signed in December of 2016. The new offer would raise his annual salary to $4 million, reportedly.

Taggart spoke to media on Friday and Sunday but generally dodged questions about coaching rumors, instead choosing to focus on Oregon’s matchup with Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Taggart said Sunday of whether he’d coach the Ducks next season. “Nothing has changed.”

The Taggart era got off to a rocky start after multiple players were hospitalized following a heavy workout during in the winter. The incident was national news, and Taggart criticized the Oregonian’s’ Andrew Greif, who first reported the story, for over-sensationalizing the events.

Then, Oregon co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach David Reaves resigned in February following a January arrest for a DUII. Wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, who was Reaves’ passenger that night, left the Oregon for UCLA shortly after.

But not all the news out of Eugene was negative.

Taggart’s recruiting abilities paid off quickly, earning a top-10 class for 2018. He also managed to construct a star-studded coaching staff consisting of the former Alabama offensive line coach (Cristobal) and the former Colorado defensive coordinator and San Francisco 49ers linebacker coach Jim Leavitt.

The coaching staff helped get Oregon back to winning ways.

In Taggart’s lone season as Oregon’s head coach, he and the Ducks got off to a bright start with an Autzen record 77 points in a 77-21 win over Southern Utah. That was followed by wins over Nebraska and Wyoming to round out nonconference play.

When the Ducks visited Arizona State for their first away game, a Justin Herbert-led offense failed to outscore the Sun Devils in a 37-35 loss in Tempe, Arizona. Herbert fractured his collarbone in the next game against Cal.

The Ducks then relied on freshman Braxton Burmeister for the next five games, in which Oregon went 1-4, losing to Washington State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington.

Herbert returned for the Ducks against Arizona, a game which Oregon dominated. Then came the Civil War, which Ducks ran away with in a 69-10 win over their rivals Oregon State.

The Ducks will now search for their second new head coach in as many years.

This post will be updated as more news emerges. 

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

Gus Morris contributed to this story.

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering every Oregon varsity sport from football to acrobatics and tumbling to softball. He also hosts a world soccer podcast on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.