The thing about coaching hires is, unless you have a body of work of the coach at that particular school, it’s either a great hire and you’re some eternal optimist … or it’s a sketchy one and you’re never giving the guy a chance.
When it comes to Willie Taggart, who is reportedly set to be named the new Oregon Ducks’ football coach, it’s hard not to go glass half full and then fill the rest up with Coors (assuming everyone West of the Rockies drinks Coors).
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 7, 2016
Oregon could have gone many a route with this hire, because it’s a destination type of job anymore. As referenced earlier, you can be statue-worthy if you ever end up leading them to their first football title, and they’ve been a legit powerhouse knocking on the door for the better part of 25 years.
But if you’re looking for reasons for optimism on this one, it shouldn’t be too hard, Oregon fan. If you’re looking for reasons for negativity, well, you’re probably a Cal or Stanford fan.
- Taggart listens to his players
While that sounds pretty basic, one of the lasting stories to come out of his time at South Florida is when things weren’t going well and he did something novel … listened to his players about changing the style of play to a more wide open, speed-based attack. In a world where coaches are almost forced to have huge personalities and have to do way too much media stuff, have social media accounts, and keep up with the increasingly self-aggrandizing world of recruiting, the truly great ones are able to take a step back when things aren’t working and ask the players what might be the fix.
It’s sort of like the CEO coming into the restaurant and asking the wait staff what they do and don’t like about their jobs and then actually making the changes. Think “Undercover Boss,” football style. That will play well just about anywhere, but a lot of times, coaches just don’t do it.
- There’s some Harbaugh in him
Literally, his career is peppered with Harbaugh family fingerprints and he seems to have molded himself a bit in the identity of Jim, who recruited him as a high school quarterback in Florida for his dad Jack, then a coach at Western Kentucky where Taggart ended up being a record setting signal caller.
That’s a long sentence, but if there’s a coaching lineage he seems to look up to, it’s Harbaugh, and that’s the high-energy, creative, player-friendly but still hard-ass style that tends to be working in college football these days.
Taggart’s first big time college gig was under Jim at Stanford as a running backs coach, which sort of leads me into the next phase …
- West Coast recruiting ties
Say it with me now, “recruiting is the lifeblood of college sports.” And recruiting is always easiest when you don’t have to start from square one on making contacts in your area, especially when you grew up across the country and played your high school and college football in the Deep South, which couldn’t be more different than Palo Alto or Eugene.
Taggart should be able to throw another log on the embers of some of those connections and Oregon shouldn’t suffer in recruiting in the short-term the way you sometimes do when you make a coaching change. There will be transfers. There always are when you bring in a new identity and culture, especially one as hard-charging as Taggart to a team that reportedly had issues with players actually wanting to “win” earlier this season. But Stanford seemingly has had a good running game since Harbaugh was tromping those Palo Alto sidelines, and it’s in no small part because of Taggart.
- He doesn’t quack … er … crack easily
Not that any coach in particular does, but let’s be honest, the optics of hiring a guy whose career record as a head coach is 40-45 is going to raise some eyebrows. The deeper dive shows that he took over two moribund programs, tore them down (which resulted in dueling 2-10 campaigns in both of his first years at WKU and USF), and built them back up.
You have to have a high degree of confidence in yourself when the rest of the world in today’s college football landscape thinks that so long as you show up for games upright and 98 degrees, your program should at least qualify for one of the 400 bowl games going on anymore.
Oregon fans shouldn’t get their knickers in a twist if the program starts off next year and the struggle is real. Maybe not 2-10 real, but “tear this thing down” real, which would mean a lean year or two on the way back.
- Speed, speed, and more speed
For better or worse, Oregon has an identity, which is one of the higher compliments you can say about a program. You go to Texas Tech, you know you’re throwing it 55 times a game. You go to Alabama, you know you’re running betwixt the tackles and bulldozing people on defense. Good programs have lasting identities that help coaches for many regimes to come if the program is having success, and Taggart’s flip to a more speed-based style at USF is perfect for a program that has littered itself with hyper-fast rosters as far back as Mike Bellotti turned this thing into a national power.
It’s always easiest when the base you have success recruiting from fits the profile of what the coach is comfortable running. That’s not to say that Oregon can’t win by going all Stanford or Big Ten “three yards and a cloud of dust” and win, but that’s a longer-term project that doesn’t fit the current roster.
Taggart’s style, both on and off the field, fits a flashy program that wants to NASCAR you off the scoreboard. In USF’s first season, the team averaged 14 points per game. As Taggart leaves it four years later, they average over 40. That’s proof positive that he can recruit classes, quickly, that can produce.
So as far as coaching hires go, it’s always easier and more reasonable to go positive. Favorite this one and check back in three years, because this one has the feel of being a lot less of a gamble on being right.