WATCH: Willie Taggart, Sept. 12
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jim Leavitt is a 40-year coaching veteran whose career includes stints in college football and the NFL, 14 years as the head coach at South Florida and a reputation as one of the sport’s top defensive minds.
He’s also the newest member of Willie Taggart’s football support staff at Florida State.
Taggart on Thursday morning confirmed that Leavitt is officially part of the Seminoles’ football program – right about the same time that Leavitt walked into FSU’s indoor practice facility wearing a Florida State t-shirt and cap.
Leavitt, who served as Taggart’s defensive coordinator at Oregon in 2017, is officially a senior defensive analyst.
And Taggart is awfully happy to have his former colleague on board.
Saying that Leavitt is someone that FSU’s defensive staff can “lean on,” Taggart called Leavitt “a great addition to our football staff, our football team” and praised the quality and experience that Leavitt will bring to FSU’s defensive meeting room.
“I think it’s a plus for our football team,” Taggart said. “And I think it’s something that will help our football team.”
First look at Jim Leavitt, @FSUFootball’s new senior defensive analyst, at practice on Thursday morning. Willie Taggart worked with Leavitt at Oregon, and this morning called Leavitt “a great addition to our football staff.” pic.twitter.com/oP1TxiQXWX
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) September 12, 2019
There’s plenty of reason to think that it will.
Although Leavitt’s role prohibits him from calling plays or instructing players, he can participate in meetings, assist with film study and offer his input after watching games and practices. (Leavitt can attend games in an official capacity, but he cannot be in the coaches’ box.)
That should be enough to get things moving in the right direction. Not only is Leavitt well-versed in the 3-4-style scheme that the Seminoles have often used this season, but his teams have almost always been very strong defensively.
In one year at Oregon, Leavitt led the Ducks’ defense to an 83-spot improvement in national total defense rankings – up from 115th to 32nd.
Before that, Leavitt crafted two stout defenses at Colorado (the finished 17th nationally in total defense in 2016), and he also spent four years on staff with coach Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers – another Taggart connection – from 2011-14.
Leavitt is likely most known, however, for his tenure at USF. The first head coach in program history, Leavitt built the Bulls from the ground up. He guided USF to a No. 2 national ranking midway through the 2007 season, and two years later topped Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles in Doak Campbell Stadium.
This year’s FSU defense could use a quick turnaround. The Seminoles rank near the bottom of the country in most major defensive statistical categories, and their level of competition only figures to increase as they move into the ACC portion of their schedule.
“His knowledge of defense and understanding defense and his experience by itself is going to help,” Taggart said. “And, again, just having him in that room as someone coach (Harlon) Barnett can lean on and talk to is a plus for our football team.”
Leavitt has long been rumored to end up in Tallahassee since Taggart was hired at Florida State in December 2017. And although Leavitt initially stayed at Oregon, those rumors intensified when he and the Ducks parted ways earlier this year.
Taggart said that he and Leavitt had been in contact previously, but it wasn’t until now that the timing was right.
“Whenever we can help our football team and help ourselves get better, we’re going to try to do that,” Taggart said.
Leavitt spent much of Thursday’s practice observing and introducing himself to a handful of players, coaches and fellow support staffers.
He and Taggart also had a long chat in the end zone while watching the players go through their drills.
“He’s here,” Taggart said a few moments before that. He then steered the conversation toward more pressing concerns – such as FSU’s game at No. 25 Virginia on Saturday. “And Virginia is here. And they’re a really good football team. We’ve got our hands full, so we’ve got to be ready for them.”
A few other newsworthy items from Taggart’s last pre-UVA media availability …
Williams ruled out: Senior left tackle Jauan Williams will miss Saturday’s game as a result of the sprained ankle he suffered against ULM. Fifth-year senior Abdul Bello, who filled in for Williams last week, will likely start at Virginia.
Grant returns: Running back Anthony Grant, absent for a few days while dealing with a personal matter, is back and practicing with the team. Taggart said he will not travel to Virginia.
Minshew on the mend: Guard Cole Minshew, who missed both spring and preseason camps, as well as FSU’s first two games, while recovering from an injury is “getting into football shape.” Minshew has been attending practice for the last few weeks and usually does some form of conditioning with a member of FSU’s training staff.
“Cole is getting better,” Taggart said. “…I talked to him Tuesday, and he’s feeling really good.”