He didn’t want to consider the Seminoles’ bowl chances or why a program once known for stability was turning to him to be its acting coach for the second time in 23 months.
Instead, Haggins kept turning to one phrase: “We are Florida State.”
More like this: He is Florida State.
He played nose guard for Bobby Bowden as the Seminoles started their remarkable streak of 14 consecutive top-five finishes. As an assistant, he has been a constant through the highs of two national titles (1999 and 2013) and the lows of the lost decade and the last three years of mediocrity.
That’s why FSU has called on him, again, to steady the program through its final three games, starting Saturday at Boston College.
“I can tell you this,” athletic director David Coburn said. “He's going to have all the support of everybody in this building because that's a beloved figure.”
Haggins, 52, is beloved because of his obvious passion for the program. In a profession filled with short-timers and uncertainty, Haggins is an FSU lifer; he has been on the Seminoles’ staff for all 26 of his seasons as a head coach and was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame last year. Since 1986, the only three years the Bartow native hasn’t been at FSU came when he was playing in the NFL (where he helped the Bills reach Super Bowl XXVI).
Haggins’ passion for the program goes beyond his longevity. Ask around, and you’ll hear stories about his disgust of Gatorade — a product of rival Florida.
“This is my school,” said Haggins, who graduated from FSU in 1993. “I bleed garnet and gold. This school has given me a lot.”
He has given a lot to the program, too, mostly as a defensive line coach.
Haggins has coached 19 defensive linemen who were drafted, including first-round picks Corey Simon, Brodrick Bunkley and Andre Wadsworth and three-time Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett. He’s a decorated recruiter who helped sign five-star talents Derwin James, Marvin Wilson and Mario Edwards.
FSU’s runs of success under Bowden and Jimbo Fisher might not have happened without Haggins. There’s a reason why he was the only assistant Taggart retained from the last regime.
Now Haggins finds himself, again, in the unenviable situation of trying to salvage a season from chaos. Two years ago, FSU named him the interim coach when Fisher bolted for Texas A&M just before the regular-season finale. Haggins’ Seminoles blew out Louisiana-Monroe 42-10 to keep their NCAA-record bowl streak alive, then trounced Southern Miss in the bowl game to clinch a 41st consecutive winning season as Taggart looked on.
“I just learned, just keep being yourself, really, because the kids … they will see if you're not authentic, if you're being fake,” Haggins said. “The kids will see that, so therefore I'm going to be myself and make sure I let them know it's all about them and the university.”
Haggins’ task will be tougher this time around. Instead of coaching one game plus a bowl, he is on the hook for three, including the regular-season finale at No. 10 Florida. FSU must win twice to return to the postseason.
Haggins isn’t thinking about that, nor is he thinking about whether he’d like to become a candidate for the head coaching position. The only thing that’s on his mind is trying to guide his beloved Seminoles through another bumpy patch with a win this weekend.
“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,” Haggins said. “So both feet in, both hands, all gas, no brakes. Let's go.”