Grading the Coaching Hires: Willie Taggart and South Florida

Willie Taggart

South Florida has had a football program for 15 years. The Bulls made the leap to the FBS level 11 years ago.

As major programs go, these Bulls are still babies. But firing Skip Holtz after scuffling along for three seasons sends a pretty clear signal that the USF administration feels they’re ready to grow up.

USF hired rising star Willie Taggart away from Western Kentucky in December with the hope that he would help the Bulls take the next step.

Did South Florida make the right move? We’re Bull-ish on it.

Why we like the hire:
Western Kentucky moved up from the FCS level in 2008, and the Hilltoppers failed to beat an FBS squad in their first two seasons playing against the big boys, going 2-22 overall. Within a year after WKU’s former star quarterback Taggart was made head coach, he led the school to a winning record. In his last season with the Hilltoppers, they qualified for a bowl.

Not only has he shown an ability to do more with less, Taggart also learned at the hand of the hottest name in the coaching business. He got his start in coaching as a member of the staff of Jim Harbaugh’s father, Jack. Jim then hired Taggart in 2007 to coach running backs. Taggart spent the next three seasons as part of Jim’s staff before getting the WKU gig.
Why we don’t like the hire:

It’s tough to poke holes in Taggart’s body of work, except for the fact that it’s not all that big. While he undoubtedly elevated WKU in his three years there, that doesn’t qualify as a long track record as a head coach. As such, he still has that flash-in-the-pan potential.

Also, skeptics might point out that although he did get the Hilltoppers above the Mendoza Line, WKU’s best finish under his watch was 7-5. The team started 2012 especially strong before dropping three of its final four games in the regular season.
What kind of talent does he inherit?:

Inheriting a 3-9 squad presents one of those good news-bad news scenarios for Taggart. On the one hand, the Bulls are losing a host of key contributors from the past season. On the other, well, the Bulls are losing a host of key contributors from the past season.

Following the departure of eighth-year senior B.J. Daniels at QB and running backs Demetris Murray and Lindsey Lamar, USF will lack experience in offensive backfield. While Daniels’ season-ending injury was unfortunate, it did offer freshman signal caller Matt Floyd a chance to get some seasoning under center at the end of the season. In fairness, the Bulls were so inept offensively that there’s little reason to not open up all spots to competition this offseason.

On defense, the USF loses its two best players in linebacker Sam Barrington and defensive back Kayvon Webster, the team’s leading tacklers. However, upperclassmen Devekeyan Lattimore at linebacker and Mark Joyce are just two of a handful of productive guys with eligibility remaining.
Yeah, but can he recruit?:

Taggart is already raising eyebrows in the Tampa area with the work that he has done locking down his first recruiting class on a truncated schedule. Fans seem happy with the effort so far, too.

Keep in mind that Taggart is a Tampa native and prep legend from his time as quarterback at Bradenton Manatee High School, where he won a state title in his junior year and played for another as a senior.

Once he has time to get his house in order, Taggart shouldn’t have any trouble assembling the most talented roster in the Big East on an annual basis.
Final thoughts:

For all of its potential, USF’s football program has aimlessly drifted along like that big pirate ship in its stadium set out to sea without a rudder. The Bulls finally have a coach who can give them some direction.
Taggart is more than just competent, though. He’s dynamic and energetic. He has also proven that he has the chops to elevate a bottom feeder.

Taggart had next to nothing to work with at WKU. He’s now leading the program best-positioned for sustainable success in the Big East. USF may not challenge Florida or Florida State for supremacy in the Sunshine State anytime soon. With Taggart in the fold, though, USF could grow into one of the most fearsome mid-major programs in the country sooner than anyone realizes.

Yeah, so, we like this hire. A whole lot. Like, it might have been the best one made this offseason.
Coaching Grade: A