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Four thoughts on FSU football adding Jim Leavitt

It took longer than expected, but Willie Taggart has finally reunited with another former USF coach.
Then-USF coach Jim Leavitt argues a call with referees against UCF during the third quarter of a 2008 game. USF won 31-24.
Then-USF coach Jim Leavitt argues a call with referees against UCF during the third quarter of a 2008 game. USF won 31-24. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 12, 2019

Florida State coach Willie Taggart made a high-profile staff addition Wednesday night by adding another former USF head coach, Jim Leavitt, to the Seminoles as an analyst. Four thoughts:

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The move, in some ways, had been a long time coming. Leavitt was Taggart’s defensive coordinator at Oregon and was expected to follow Taggart to Tallahassee. That, of course, didn’t happen. Taggart instead hired Harlon Barnett away from Michigan State. Leavitt won’t be the defensive coordinator, but the move still allows him to have some influence with the game-planning and schemes. It brings a coach Taggart knows and respects into the discussions.

The move makes sense for another reason, too. FSU’s defense is struggling. A lot. The Seminoles have allowed 1,040 yards of offense through two games. That’s the most FSU has allowed in back-to-back regular-season games since 1984. Something clearly had to be done to fix the product and provide optimism to a restless fan base. Adding a respected defensive mind and former Division I-A head coach to the room is a strong way to address the concerns.

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So what, exactly, will Leavitt do? Different schools can use analysts in different ways, but the job typically requires a lot of watching film, breaking down plays and offering feedback for the week’s game plan. After that, it’s up to the coaches themselves to make the calls. Taggart told reporters in Tallahassee on Thursday morning that just having him in the defensive coaches’ room “as someone Coach Barnett can lean on and talk to is a plus for our football team.”

There’s another side to that question: What won’t Leavitt be able to do? I’m reminded of what Steve Sarkisian said before the College Football Playoff national championship at Tampa in January 2017. He joined Alabama’s staff as an analyst but had just been elevated to offensive coordinator after Lane Kiffin’s abrupt departure for Florida Atlantic.

“I think it was challenging prior to this, being in the analyst role, because you still get to work on the game plan side of things,” Sarkisian said then. “You still get to work with the coaches on giving suggestions and tips when we’re watching the tape. “But it is frustrating as an analyst when you go out to practice and you’re not coaching. I mean, that’s what you love to do. But in my situation, when you’re not allowed to do that, it’s a lot of note taking. It’s a lot of watching coaching, watching the other guys coach.”

So Leavitt won’t be coaching, exactly, but he’ll still be trying to make the Seminoles better. How much better? We’ll find out soon.