The rumors and speculation that Florida plans to pluck coach Willie Taggart from Oregon's nest won't go away.
Not even after Taggart said Monday that he is committed to Oregon and is focused solely on preparing to face No. 12 Washington on Saturday in Seattle. Nor did the chatter die down after players revealed that Taggart told the team during dinner later that evening that those linking his name to Florida were in error. That discussion came about after Taggart's oldest son, Willie Jr., sent him a text from Sheldon High School asking if the family would be moving yet again.
Willie Jr.'s instincts to check in were correct. Eventually, the Taggart family will leave Eugene. The question is when, not if. And it doesn't matter what Taggart says publicly. Name me a coach that ever responded to rumors that he would be leaving by coming out in the middle of a season and saying, "yep, I'm leaving. See ya." It simply doesn't work that way.
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If you didn't like the Taggart hire last December on the heels of firing Mark Helfrich and his entire staff then you couldn't care less if Taggart were to pack up and leave tomorrow. In fact, you might be willing to help him box up some items and load furniture onto a moving truck. Maybe he would dump some used Oregon gear on you.
If you did like the hire and have been inspired by the staff's energy and impressed by the bountiful recruiting class that's on the way, then you should be nervous. Very nervous. Not necessarily because he might leave this year, but because the speculation about him leaving is going to become an annual thing, especially if he succeeds in returning the Ducks to national prominence.
According to Sources, Taggart is not a prime candidate to replace the fired Jim McElwain despite the rampant rumors that say otherwise. In fact, former Oregon offensive coordinator and Central Florida coach Scott Frost is said to be a far more desired replacement to coach the Gators. That's good news for Oregon because I will go on record right now and state that if Florida, Florida State or Miami came after Taggart he would be gone. It would be very difficult for him to say no. His mother, Gloria, still resides in his hometown of Palmetto, Fla. One has to imagine that Taggart would prefer to live and work closer to his mother, especially after his father, John Taggart, sadly passed away last summer.
So if you like Taggart, pray that Florida gets its first choice and doesn't come after Taggart just as Oregon did during its search, which, coincidentally included McElwain at the top of the list of desired replacements for Helfrich.
Taggart leaving right now would be devastating for the Oregon program. Remember, Taggart was Oregon's fifth or sixth choice depending on which reports from the time of the search you choose believe. The Ducks lured him away from South Florida after others had already rebuffed Oregon's interest. Personally, I think UO lucked out by landing and up-and-coming coaching star who is an elite recruiter from an area rich with talent.
Taggart would most certainly raid UO's recruiting class, currently ranked No. 5 on Rivals.com and No. 6 on 247Sports. The class includes four players from Florida, two from Texas, one from Georgia and one from North Carolina. Those guys would likely follow Taggart to Florida, which is closer to home for all eight. And given that Taggart has been able to get players from the south to commit to Eugene he certainly would be able to convince players from Arizona and California to head to Florida.
That would leave Oregon scrambling to find a suitable replacement that could possibly save as much of the recruiting class as possible. A positive for UO in this scenario is that Florida's class is ranked No. 7 on 247Sports, so maybe Taggart wouldn't want many of UO's current commits.
One of the potential pitfalls of firing Helfrich is ending up in a situation where a new coach views Oregon as a stepping-stone to a better job. Chances were that Helfrich, born and raised on Coos Bay, would have never left Oregon. Taggart, on the other hand, likely won't finish out his five-year, $17 million contract if he is able to get the Ducks back into national contention.
It would be the third program he would have reinvented, following his stints at Western Kentucky and South Florida. Certainly, higher-profile programs in far better recruiting areas would pursue Taggart if he brings the Ducks back to prominence.
Would Oregon circle back to McElwain? That certainly wouldn't fire up the Oregon fan base.
The best game plan for Oregon should Taggart bolt would be to keep a high-end assistant in the fold to hopefully maintain some level of continuity. The Ducks would be wise to elevate defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt or co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to head coach.
Leavitt, who coached South Florida before Taggart did, is rumored to be waiting to take over Kansas State once Billy Snyder retires. Cristobal, once the head coach at Florida International, would likely take the Oregon job tomorrow.
On one hand, Oregon is in a good situation with a seemingly hot commodity at head coach. On the other hand, that's not always good if that coach has other plans elsewhere in the back of his mind. Those plans would certainly involve a major program from his home state.
Get used to it Oregon fans. Taggart's status with UO could become an annual concern.