WALTHAM, Mass. — Not even two years ago, Florida State University asked Odell Haggins to provide a steadying hand in a time of trouble.
To say that the longtime Seminole answered the call would be a massive understatement. Serving as interim head coach in the wake of Jimbo Fisher’s sudden departure, Haggins guided the FSU football team first to a win that preserved bowl eligibility, and later to an emphatic victory over Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl that ensured a winning season.
It was one of the great feel-good moments in the program’s recent history, with the university community heaping adoration on the man who had either played or coached at his alma mater for nearly his entire adult life.
A few months later, Haggins was inducted into the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame, a rare feat for someone still working in the department.
But if anyone had earned such a distinction, it was Haggins.
Twenty months and 21 games later, Haggins is back in the director’s chair, hoping to create a sequel that’s even better than the original.
FSU earlier this week fired head coach Willie Taggart and immediately began the search for his successor.
This year’s Seminoles, however, still have a quarter of their season still to play. And some very real goals still to play for.
Who else but Haggins to lead them through it?
“I can tell you this,” FSU athletics director David Coburn said, “he’s going to have all the support of everybody in this building. Because that’s a beloved figure.”
Added Haggins: “Second time around, I think this is a blessing. God put me in this situation for a reason, because God knows in my heart what I think about our players and Florida State University. So both feet in, both hands, all gas, no brakes. Let’s go.”
Like most movie sequels, the scenario for Florida State is similar to what it faced two years ago – but with a much higher degree of difficulty.
Rather than ULM and Southern Mississippi, these Seminoles must contend with road trips to Boston College and No. 10 Florida, with a home game against FCS Alabama State in-between.
FSU needs to win two of three in order to play in the postseason. Beating Boston College would give the Seminoles a .500 record in the ACC for the first time in three years. And beating the Gators would mean, well, beating the Gators.
“We have an opportunity, and every opportunity is a positive for us,” FSU linebacker Emmett Rice said last week. “We have to get the wins so we can make a bowl.”
Haggins, though, has never been one to let the big picture cloud his vision. During his Monday press conference, he insisted time and again that he was focused only on Boston College.
And for good reason.
Despite their 5-4 record, the Eagles have trended mostly upward lately, with recent lopsided wins over North Carolina State and Syracuse on either side of an equally lopsided loss to Clemson.
Ironically, losing starting quarterback Anthony Brown seems to have helped BC turn its fortunes. Since then, the Eagles have all but forsaken the passing game in favor of two talented, oversized running backs.
Junior AJ Dillon (6-foot, 250 pounds) has run for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has an outside chance to become the ACC’s all-time leading rusher by the end of the season.
And fellow back David Bailey (6-1, 240) has added another 698 yards and six scores whenever Dillon needs a breather.
In three full games since Brown’s injury, the Eagles have run the ball 169 times (more than 56 rushes per game) while attempting a total of just 33 passes.