On a trip to Arizona on Monday, Oregon coach Willie Taggart went recruiting, then got recruited himself.
Taggart, along with co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, visited four-star quarterback commit Tyler Shough in the Phoenix area before Taggart met with Florida State officials nearby.
Taggart was reportedly set to return to Eugene that night to meet with UO officials, who worked late into the night. But it remained unclear as of Monday evening whether Taggart is still committed to UO or Florida State, the program from Taggart’s home state seeking a replacement for new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Monday that FSU and Taggart’s agent were negotiating a contract with a goal of announcing him as the coach of the Seminoles on Tuesday.
If Taggart leaves after a lone 7-5 season in Eugene, he would owe Oregon $4.5 million — the $3 million buyout his contract stipulates plus the repayment of an additional $1.5 million that UO covered for his South Florida buyout last year.
Taggart is scheduled to earn $2.9 million in the first year of his contract but prior to UO’s Civil War rout on Nov. 25 was offered an extension worth more than $20 million over five seasons.
Unlike lengthy coaching searches in past years, time is precious now because, for the first time, football recruits can now sign earlier than the first Wednesday in February. An early signing period runs from Dec. 20-22, and many programs, such as Oregon, are expected to ink the bulk of their recruiting class then.
That looming 72-hour signing period has accelerated the pace with which Florida State wants to wrap up its first coaching search in Taggart’s lifetime — 41 years.
Jimbo Fisher’s successor in Tallahassee must quickly attempt to revive interest in the program that flagged during the team’s 6-6 season, after FSU opened ranked third nationally. With seven decommitments in the past week, Florida State’s 2018 recruiting class currently has 11 members and ranks 31st.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have the nation’s seventh-best class, which remains on pace to be the highest-ranked in history. But one recruit — Tre’Shaun Harrison, a four-star athlete from Seattle — has already decommitted, citing "uncertainty" surrounding Taggart’s future in Eugene, and the Ducks are losing a critical weekend of visits on Dec. 15, because the program will instead be in Las Vegas preparing for a Dec. 16 bowl game against Boise State.
Whether Taggart ultimately chooses to hold together his current class or add to a new one in Florida, the quick turnaround before the early signing period is why many expect a quick resolution.
"Coach Taggart was a big part of my commitment," Madison High School linebacker and 2018 UO commit M.J. Cunningham told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Monday. "I was closer to him than my position coach. If he leaves, I’d definitely consider Oregon and stay committed for awhile to see how things go, but I’m going to see what’s out there for me. Oregon was always a dream school, so they’ll always be in the discussion. If he leaves, I won’t decommit right away."
Cunningham said he spoke with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on Monday and that while he didn’t offer any hints as to Taggart’s decision, Leavitt "was pretty much saying if Taggart leaves, he’ll still be there."
Shough, the quarterback who hosted Taggart Monday morning, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the meeting was "great" though there was "no real news about an update between the schools. He talked about Oregon most of the time, and us."
Oregon later canceled Taggart’s meeting Monday evening with four-star receiver commit Miles Battle in Houston. Battle tweeted that no make-up date has been set with meet with Taggart.
— Andrew Greif
Madison linebacker and Oregon Ducks pledge M.J. Cunningham
Texas four-star WR Miles Battle will no longer be visited Monday evening by Willie Taggart.