Florida State’s newly (again) interim head coach Odell Haggins has always been a team-first guy since arriving on campus in 1985 as a player and has always come up big for the Seminoles.
He arrived as a 6-foot-1, 210-pound all-state linebacker and was asked to move to nose tackle entering his redshirt sophomore year in 1987. In what has become a routine for Haggins, he made the move for the good of his teammates and the success of his team.
Not only did Haggins make the move to the defensive line, he did so and became one of the best nose tackles in college football from 1987-89. He caused a fumble in the fourth quarter of the 1988 Fiesta Bowl against Nebraska that gave the ball back to the offense for one final drive, which ended with the famous game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Danny McManus to wide receiver Ronald Lewis to give the Seminoles a 31-28 win. That FSU team finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in both the AP and UPI polls in part because of Haggins’ unselfishness and ability to come through when it mattered most.
He came up big again when Jimbo Fisher bolted from Tallahassee to be named the coach at Texas A&M. Often referred to as Coach Odell or Mr. FSU, he was asked to take over the team for its makeup game against Louisiana-Monroe – which a 5-6 FSU team needed to win to qualify for its 36th bowl appearance in a row. All he did was go 2-0 as the interim head coach. FSU crushed ULM 42-10 a week after the annual rivalry game against Florida and earned a spot in the Independence Bowl against Southern Miss. FSU needed a win against Southern Miss to avoid its first losing season since the 1970s and once again he came through with flying colors, garnet and gold of course, as he led the Seminoles to a 42-13 win and a 7-6 finish for FSU.
Less than two years later his alma mater has called upon him to start the process of picking up the pieces of a fractured FSU football program. Haggins was asked to take on the role of interim head coach once again on Sunday afternoon after FSU AD David Coburn made the decision to part ways with head coach Willie Taggart after a 27-10 loss to in-state rival Miami and a 9-12 record in his 21 games as FSU’s head man.
All Haggins must do this time is get FSU back on the winning track as the Seminoles (4-5) need to win two their last three games against Boston College, Alabama State and Florida to get back to a bowl game after missing last year’s postseason. And in true Odell fashion he is focused on this week’s game and securing a winning effort from what are now his players and coaches.
“I’m standing up here at what’s a difficult time at Florida State University,” Haggins said as he began his opening statement on being named FSU interim head coach. “It is what it is, and one of the players asked me a question. He said, ‘Coach, how’s everything going with you.’ I said, you know how everything is going with me. We’re moving forward. We’re moving forward. We’re thinking about Boston College and thinking about how we’re going to prepare for them and what we need to do to go out and play Boston College. I said, ‘That’s what we’re going to do.’ I said that’s what Willie Taggart would want. He wouldn’t want you here sulking and crying. He would want you to move forward.”
Like FSU AD David Coburn, Haggins has been impressed with how the team has handled the news of Taggart’s firing and how they have gone about their business since receiving the news before Sunday night’s practice.
“The players yesterday asked Mr. (David) Coburn questions,” said Haggins. “They were champions yesterday. Talked to them, let them know. I’ll say it again, we are Florida State. We are Florida State. We’re all we’ve got, we’re all we need. And we’re going to fight. We’re going to conquer. Exactly what I told them. And that’s what they need here.”
Haggins says he is convinced his team will fight its way through the end of the season and gave credit to his predecessor in the process.
“They’re our kids, and they’re going to fight to uphold Florida State University,” Haggins said. “To listen to Mr. Coburn talk, answer their questions, I’m going to say this again, we are Florida State. President, AD, we are committed to graduating kids and winning National Championships. One thing about it, a testament to Willie Taggart, the kids came out yesterday, they ran hard, they practiced hard. The culture has changed.”
He also faithfully believes he is in the position he was supposed to be in.
“I think this is a blessing,” said Haggins of his second tour of duty as an interim coach. “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. So, both feet in, both hands, all gas, no brakes. Let’s go.”
When asked about his thoughts on guiding FSU to two wins and a bowl-berth, Haggins was steadfast that his focus is singular this week.
“To be honest with you, I’m not thinking about three, I’m thinking about one,” answered Haggins when asked about FSU’s final three games. “Not trying to be sarcastic. I’m thinking about today, preparing, breaking film down, seeing how we’re going to stop Boston College and the things we’re going to do to prepare for Boston College. I’m not thinking about three, I’m thinking about the first one, this week of practice, preparing the kids, making sure everything is going well in the classroom, they’re going to class and practicing well and playing Boston College Saturday.”
He said the answer to keeping the program together in the short term is he and his coaches should be who they are.
“Being myself and being authentic, letting the kids know how we feel about them,” said Haggins. “It’s no magical way of doing things like that. You must be yourself. You bleed garnet and gold. I don’t know how. But Odell Haggins is going to be Odell Haggins, and I’m going to speak the truth. I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. I’m going to tell you the truth.”
Haggins also said the staff has handled the transition like the seasoned veterans that they are.
“Yeah, some of them were stunned, but we all — we, not Odell, not the rest of the staff, we snapped back to reality, because our main thing, we’re going to keep the main thing the main thing: Those players and the university,” said Haggins. “So that’s going to snap you back to reality just like that. You know, we all are professionals, and the administration expects us to act like professionals, so therefore we snap back to it moving forward.”
He also said that he has been hearing from former FSU players and coaches since the news broke yesterday and that he plans to speak with Coach Bowden this week.
“Coach [Mickey] Andrews, you know, he texted me, ‘Dell, don’t flinch, go get it,’ ” said Haggins. “A lot of my guys, former players, Coach, go get it. We know you can do it. You have that Florida State pride. So, we’re not concerned. You have a lot of support, Coach. Go do it. I’ll call Coach (Bowden). He’ll start cracking a joke on me or something.”
His message to FSU boosters, alumni and fans?
“Well, I’d like to say this: We love you,” Haggins said. “We love your support and keep supporting us. It’s all about these football players and the university. Keep coming. We are Florida State.”