EL PASO, Fla. – Long before taking the reins at their respective universities, and long before their meeting that will take place at the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on Tuesday (2 p.m., ESPN), Odell Haggins and Herm Edwards first crossed paths in the mid-1990s – back when Haggins was a young assistant with Bowden’s dynasty era Seminoles and Edwards worked with the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Haggins, along with longtime FSU defensive staffers Mickey Andrews and Jim Gladden, would often visit Tampa to pick up a thing or two from Edwards, head coach Tony Dungy and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who at the time were taking the NFL by storm with their vaunted “Tampa 2” defense.
WATCH: Layne Herdt and Tim Linafelt recap the week in El Paso and break down the Sun Bowl.
“We used to go down there,” Haggins said at a joint press conference with Edwards on Monday, “and aggravate them and aggravate them.”
Edwards, seated to Haggins’ left, laughed at the memory.
Neither coach’s defense was a joke, though. FSU, having already won a national title a few years prior, went on to win another with Haggins on staff in 1999.
And the Buccaneers – thanks in large part to Florida State alums Derrick Brooks and Dexter Jackson – built one of the league’s stingiest defenses on the way to a Super Bowl title in 2002.
Fast forward a bit, and both men are in positions that, quite frankly, might have seemed unlikely back in the 1990s and early 2000s:
Haggins in his second stint as FSU’s interim head coach, and Edwards – so strongly associated with professional football, as well as his time as an analyst for ESPN – in his second season as the head coach at Arizona State.
“Coach Herm, one of my favorites,” Haggins said. “I used to watch him all the time.”
Safe to say the feeling is mutual.
The charismatic Edwards, who had been out of coaching for 10 years before taking over at ASU, spent a big part of his Q&A sessions singing praises for Haggins and for Florida State.
He said that the Seminoles have a “tremendous” brand, and that, when watching their film, he could see a handful of plays that, had they gone the other way, might have led to a different season in Tallahassee.
And Edwards reserved his highest praise for Haggins and the way that he masterfully guided the Seminoles through a mid-season coaching change, led them to two wins in the final three games, and put them in position to finish with a winning season at the Sun Bowl.
“(That’s) very difficult,” Edwards said, “but the character of the man tells you that his players respect him and follow him.
“When you’re at a university for 26 years, what else do you need to know? He has the ultimate respect from the community, from the student body, from the players, from the administrators, they know who it is leading this team right now.”
And while Haggins isn’t going anywhere, his time in the big chair is set to come to a close.
He’ll hand the keys over to Mike Norvell, who arrived in El Paso on Monday, once the Sun Bowl is finished.
Until then, though, seemingly everyone at Florida State – whether it’s a player or coach set to participate in their last game as Seminoles, or for others set to remain – is determined to give Haggins a fond memory in his finale as interim coach.
“It means a lot,” defensive end Janarius Robinson said. “Someone that’s put 30-plus years of their life into this program, we want to lay it all on the line for him. He does the same for us. So we just want to give it our for all this bowl game and come out with a win for Coach Odell.”
According to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who is among those who will depart for another school after the Sun Bowl, Florida State has Haggins to thank for even being in this position.
After all, the Seminoles were 4-5 when Haggins took over, and had a difficult, must-win road game at Boston College for his first assignment.
They won, 38-31.
“Odell Haggins led the way,” Briles said. “He did a tremendous job. I thought Odell did exactly what you had to do. He brought the team together. He made it a family experience.
“And he knew that it was only one way, which was the ‘Nole way.’ And really gave a lot of faith and hope to our football team going forward.”
With one game left to play, and with Norvell, the man who represents the program’s hope for 2020 and beyond, the Seminoles will look to reward Haggins’ faith in them.
“We all just want to win, really,” FSU defensive tackle Robert Cooper said. “We want to go into the offseason on a good note, give ourselves something to work off of.”
Odds and ends …