Oregon fans wouldn’t be blamed if the last time they thought deeply about Texas AM was three years ago, upon the Aggies’ decision to back out of a home-and-home series in 2018-19.
But Thursday afternoon, the eyes of some inside and around Oregon’s program were on a board room in College Station, Texas. Inside, Texas AM’s board of regents met in executive session to discuss final contract numbers for its next head coach — a hiring that, if it happens this weekend as expected, will begin a domino effect that could lead all the way across the country to the doorstep of Oregon’s football offices in Eugene.
The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that the Aggies expect to hire Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher after the Seminoles play their final, hurricane-delayed game of the season Saturday. The Chronicle and other outlets reported that he could earn between $7 and $7.5 million annually at Texas AM.
Should Fisher leave, Florida State is said to be interested in successors that range from Oregon’s Willie Taggart, Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and fired AM coach Kevin Sumlin, according to reports from USA Today and FootballScoop.
Florida is not just home for Taggart, a native of Bradenton, but the place he has made a career out of recruiting. Seven members of UO’s 2017 recruiting class, UO’s first under Taggart, hailed from the state, while four Florida natives are part of Oregon’s 2018 class that, if it stays together through the Dec. 20-22 early signing period, would be the highest-ranked in program history.
Taggart, who will speak with reporters Friday in Eugene for the first time since FSU’s reported interest in him went public, tweeted Thursday: “We have an impact on youth…both large and small. I am thankful for the opportunity to positively influence those who watch me. Go Ducks!”
Oregon has sweetened its incentive for Taggart to stay, offering him a contract extension that would pay him more than $20 million over the next five years. The Ducks went 7-5 in Taggart’s first season despite going 1-4 in quarterback Justin Herbert’s absence, due to a collarbone injury.
Speaking Thursday evening to a group of board volunteers in downtown Portland, UO President Michael Schill said people were eager to hear the latest from him about the news. Not, he joked, about the congressional tax plan, but about the coach.
“We love Willie. We hope Willie stays,” Schill said.
But now Oregon, like Florida State, is waiting in a holding pattern.
Fisher, who shares an agent with Taggart, was noncommittal Thursday, avoiding questions about Texas AM during an ESPNU radio interview.
“Well I’m a coach, we’re coaching through this game,” Fisher said, according to the Orlando Sentinel, “and then we always make decisions at the end of the year after things are finished.”
— Andrew Greif
The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Therese Bottomly contributed reporting.