Picking up the pieces
EUGENE — Willie Taggart has a new profile picture and an updated Twitter bio that will probably make Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and a lot of Duck fans cringe.
It reads: Florida State University Head Football Coach — The Dream is free, but the Hustle is sold separately. GO NOLES!
Taggart was a master of social media during his one-and-done campaign at Oregon, where he deftly promoted the program’s flashy brand while getting fans, players and recruits excited about a new era for the Ducks.
Now some of Taggart’s former players feel like they were hustled at the expense of his dream chasing.
“He lied straight to my dads face in my living room Thursday night,” Oregon sophomore linebacker Troy Dye tweeted on Wednesday. “He didn’t keep his word to me Monday. Lost all my respect.”
As Mullens noted during his news conference on Tuesday, Taggart’s handling of his exit “got clumsy at the end.”
Taggart was first contacted by Florida State last Thursday but denied connections to the vacancy during interview sessions on Friday and Sunday.
On Monday, four-star quarterback recruit Tyler Shough posted a photo of Taggart and co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo standing next to him during an in-home visit in Arizona.
Taggart interviewed for the Florida State job later that afternoon, negotiated a six-year, $30 million contract and broke down while breaking the news to Oregon’s players on Tuesday.
Freshman safety Nick Pickett tweeted: “(Taggart) is a liar then gone cry (in) front of the team like we gone feel bad for (him).”
During his introductory press conference at Florida State on Wednesday, Taggart said he apologized to Mullens on the way out of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
“I feel bad because you feel like you let (Mullens) down, and I know I did,” Taggart said. “I’m sorry that I did let him down, and like I told everyone there, I’m sorry, I apologize. The timing is probably not right, but it’s never right when it’s time to leave.”
The timing couldn’t be much worse for Oregon with a bowl game to play on Dec. 16 and an early recruiting signing period beginning on Dec. 20.
As Mullens began his second coaching search in less than a full calendar year, players and members of the touted but eroding 2018 recruiting class lobbied for Oregon’s assistants to be retained.
Interim coach Mario Cristobal and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt are expected to be in-house candidates to replace Taggart.
Cristobal, Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, is one of the nation’s top assistants and recruiters. He was also the head coach at Florida International for six seasons, posting a 27-47 record before getting fired.
“Coach Cristobal deserves it,” Cody Shear, an offensive lineman from Sheldon High who redshirted this season, tweeted.
Starting left guard Shane Lemieux added: “In Cristobal we trust!!”
Leavitt had a more successful run building South Florida with a 95-57 record in 13 seasons as head coach, but he was fired in 2010 after being accused of hitting a player. He sued USF and received a $2.75 million settlement.
“There’s a number of coaches on our staff that have head coaching capability,” Mullens said Tuesday. “and we’d certainly want to talk to them.”
Both Cristobal and Leavitt were expected to return to Eugene on Wednesday from the recruiting trail.
Oregon’s class, which was ranked No. 1 by Scout before Taggart was courted by Florida State, has slipped to No. 9 with four prospects decommitting.
But other members of the talented group vowed to stay together and join the Ducks if some of the coaches who recruited them stay on at Oregon.
“If Mr. Mullens hires (Cristobal) or (Leavitt) as Oregon’s permanent head coach, you’ll have the 2018 brotherhood back together, the original one!!” Justin Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 355-pound offensive lineman from Philadelphia tweeted. “Keep the staff & keep the class.”
Some possible outside candidates Mullens could pursue include former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, former Florida coach Jim McElwain, Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin.
Justin Wilcox, a former Oregon player and Junction City native, would have to leave California after only one season as head coach to return home.
“That’s a bonus, but that’s not where you start because that narrows the pool,” Mullens said on the importance of candidates having a tie to the program after getting burned by Taggart. “We want to have a diverse pool, a broad pool, and we will have that.”
Oregon’s first practice since Taggart left will be on Saturday. All of the assistants will coach through the bowl game.
The Ducks (7-5) play No. 25 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium (12:30 p.m., ABC).
“I feel like we have to come together as a team and focus on this bowl game and not let the whole coaching situation take us down,” safety Brady Breeze said Tuesday. “It’s frustrating having three coaches in three years. There’s nothing I can do about it, it’s not in my control.
“We just have to come out and practice, prove ourselves … take this new coach, whoever they hire, and trust him to do the best we can.”