Not long after he was introduced as the head football coach at USF, Willie Taggart received a call from Jim Harbaugh.
"He congratulated me, said he was proud of me and then told me 'get to work,'" Taggart said with a smile.
It was vintage Harbaugh. The San Francisco 49ers coach said the same thing to Taggart when he took the head coaching job at Western Kentucky three years earlier.
Not to worry. Hard work is part of Taggart's DNA. He just pushed it up a few notches since he became associated with the Harbaugh family, including dad Jack and Baltimore Ravens head coach John.
Taggart lived in a three-bedroom apartment with his parents and four siblings growing up and worked in the Palmetto orange groves so his family could have food and rent money.
The 36-year-old says picking oranges taught him what he didn't want to do.
"I knew football was my way out. I had to be the best player, and to do that I had to outwork everyone," Taggart said. "I have been working hard all my life, and it has gotten me here." Before the ink had time to dry on the USF contract he signed Dec. 8, Taggart was doing what he does best: recruiting.
If you are a running back, it's awfully hard to say no to Taggart. The last three who played for him were among the top six rushers in the country, and Toby Gerhart was a Heisman Trophy runner-up.
"The reaction has been great. Everybody is excited about me taking the job and excited about me talking to their kids," Taggart said. "We had kids reach out to us. I had kids call me and tell me they want reconsider their commit
ment and are thinking about coming to USF."
This particular recruiting period ends this weekend with a dead period during which coaches cannot visit recruits or make in-person contact.
Coming from a poor family of migrant workers, Taggart knows about the struggles many kids from lower socioeconomic situations encounter. He also can show them their dilemma doesn't have to be an obstacle.
When he arrived at WKU out of high school, he was what was then called a Proposition 48. It meant he would only have three years to play unless he could complete 76 credit hours in two years.
Taggart did it despite working in a factory 13 hours a day until 1 a.m. during two summers when he had to pay his own expenses.
After this weekend, Taggart will start putting together a staff. At the top of his list is finding a defensive coordinator.
"What I am looking for in all our assistant coaches is somebody that is passionate about football, highly competitive and very good teachers and mentors," Taggart said. "For our defensive coordinator, I want somebody who is aggressive getting after the quarterback and strong schematically, someone who can teach the other coaches as well as players."
Taggart won't say who he has in mind and won't contact any coaches at WKU until after its bowl game on Dec. 26.
"I don't want to disrupt what they are doing. They are trying to win the first bowl game in school history and we want those kids, especially the seniors, to go out happy," Taggart said. "The seniors have been through everything (including a winless season their first year), and I really want those players to lock in and bring a championship home."
Taggart doesn't scare. He says talk that the Big East landscape might change won't affect his recruiting regardless of how that shapes up. There is endless speculation about what might happen to the conference and the BCS status it still has for next season.
"USF is a very attractive university, and it's going to be fine. Somebody good is going to want USF if something does happen with the Big East," Taggart said. "But right now we are in the Big East and those other things we can't control. No matter what conference we are in we've got to win ballgames; so we are focusing on getting kids who want to help us build this program."
Manatee High's Hall of Fame coach, Joe Kinnan, and his assistant, college liaison Chris Conboy, said the mere presence of Taggart would offset anything that could go wrong with the Big East and its effect on USF.
"Willie has the personality to convince kids to come there and build something. He had higher quality kids going to Western Kentucky that normally would've gone to the big Florida schools," Conboy said. "Our running back last year, Leon Allen, turned down an offer from Miami to go to Western Kentucky."
Less than two days after Taggart was hired, Manatee High's touted defensive tackle, Derrick Calloway, said he wanted to take an official visit to USF, and it is scheduled for Jan. 11th.
"He also has visits scheduled for Louisville and Missouri," Kinnan said. "He is interested in USF because there is a head coach who has Manatee roots, and it's close to home. Willie is going to do well."
The one thing Taggart won't likely need is an offensive coordinator. He calls the plays, which is something he has done for awhile, including back in 2002 when he called every play the entire season in leading WKU to the I-AA national championship.
"As long as it takes me to get the very best staff is what it will take," Taggart said. "I am not going to rush into putting it together. I have one time to do it right, and I've got to do it right now and get what is best for the players and the program."
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.