Willie Taggart the perfect fit for USF
December, 8, 2012
By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com
As soon as USF fired coach Skip Holtz, one name surfaced as the clear-cut, no-brainer, perfect-fit choice for the Bulls.
He has the hometown ties. He has the coaching pedigree, two times over. He has the on-the-field credentials. Bigger names like Houston Nutt and Butch Davis showed an interest. But USF did not need a failed or disgraced big-name coach.
It needed Taggart.
This, my friends, is the best coaching fit among all the hires that have been made so far in college football.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWillie Taggart, who coached under Jim Harbaugh and revived Western Kentucky's program, replaces Skip Holtz at South Florida.
It makes so much sense in so many ways.
Taggart grew up in nearby Palmetto, Fla., and played quarterback at Bradenton Manatee, a program that has been one of the best in the state, winning five championships and churning out prospects like Tommie Frazier.
He served under coaching heavies Jack Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh, learning the characteristics of toughness and relentlessness that best described his Stanford running backs and his Western Kentucky teams.
He performed a near miracle at Western Kentucky -- his alma mater -- turning a program that lost 20 straight games before his arrival into a bowl team. In fact, the Hilltoppers would be making their second straight bowl appearance, had they not been left without a spot in 2011 at 7-5.
Now how does this all translate into a smart coaching hire?
First and foremost, his recruiting ties to the area are huge. Western Kentucky has 33 players on the roster from the state of Florida -- 18 are from the Tampa Bay area. His biggest priority is to keep top-tier talent in Tampa Bay from leaving. I give you Exhibit A: UCF has been gaining ground on USF in its own backyard.
That is simply unacceptable, especially now that the schools are going to be playing under the same conference umbrella. His biggest priority must be securing a renewed commitment from four-star Winter Park, Fla., prospect Asiantii Woulard, the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation.
Secondly, USF has been a team that has lacked focus, discipline and toughness at times throughout the course of the past three seasons. That will change under Taggart, whose offenses have run the ball with authority and whose defenses have been aggressive -- leading the Sun Belt in total defense and sacks (31) in 2012.
USF has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Andre Hall in 2005. Western Kentucky has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of Taggart's three seasons -- including Bobby Rainey, who was No. 2 in the nation in rushing in 2011, and No. 3 in 2010.
Finally, Taggart has the coaching chops. Interest in him was so high this week, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh put out a statement for those interested. Taggart served as his running backs coach at Stanford, and coached Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart for three seasons. Harbaugh said, "Any football program would be very lucky to have Willie Taggart as their head coach." Taggart also served under Harbaugh's father, Jack, at Western Kentucky.
There is hard work ahead to be done, but Taggart is inheriting a much better situation in Tampa than he did at Western Kentucky. USF has great facilities, is in a recruiting hotbed, and has talent on its roster. There is a reason people expect the Bulls to compete for the Big East championship every single season.
Taggart is now charged with making history in that regard. And right now, there is no better coach for the job.