College preview | USF head coach Willie Taggart to Bulls: 'Do something'

USF head coach using lessons learned at Manatee to revive Bulls

adell@bradenton.comAugust 30, 2013 


Willie Taggart never runs out of ways to make a point.

He showed up for the first day of fall practice at USF wearing a blue auto mechanic's shirt with the nametag "Willie" on it.

Taggart wasn't going to repair his car.

He is more concerned about fixing the USF football program he inherited last winter after Skip Holtz was fired.

It needs a massive overhaul, which is a reason school officials hired the former Manatee High quarterback.

His resume is filled with fixer-up stories.

When his players want something like a number change, Taggart often responds with the same statement:

"Do something."

"I always tell them you want something, do something. You want me to give you something, you do something," Taggart says.

The coach also is from the no-pain, no-gain school of thought.

"You have a low pain threshold you are going to find it hard to play at the University of South Florida. Success is at the end of pain. Enjoy the challenge," he says.

"Do something" has become the Taggart mantra. He got it from Demetrius Murray, his former teammate at Manatee.

"He always used to say 'Do something,'" Taggart recalls. "To me, that is life. You want something, you've got to do something. You can't sit back and wait for someone to do it for you. That's what I want from our football team. Do something. Don't blame anybody. That is our foundation -- 'Do something.'"

Taggart learned about doing things from working the fields of Palmetto as a kid helping his migrant parents put food on the table. It seemed as if he picked every fruit imaginable.

"I knew that was something I didn't want to do for the rest of my life," Taggart says.

When he showed up at Manatee to play quarterback, coaches wondered how this stringbean kid was going to help. And he was following Tommie Frazier, who had become a legend in his own time.

But Taggart didn't flinch. He engineered the team a state title as a junior in 1992 and took the Hurricanes back to the state championship game the next year.

Taggart was a four-year starting quarterback at Western Kentucky and set 11 records there. He was an assistant coach at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh when they turned that laughingstock program into a national contender.

He went back to WKU to take over a program that had lost 20 straight games and he went 14-6 in his final 20. He took the program to its first bowl game.

That's doing something.

Now he is at USF facing a monumental task.

USF assistant coach Ray Woodie, who was a head coach and player at Palmetto and Bayshore high schools, knows all about Taggart. He can see how his youth played a role in his demeanor.

"Coach Taggart learned about hard work because no one gave him anything growing up in Palmetto. He didn't have a gold spoon in his mouth," Woodie says. "He is always putting our players in adverse situations to see how they respond because he faced adversity every day. He teaches them to be blue collar and come in and work every day. You think a day is going to be a certain way and when it's not, he wants to see how you bounce back."

Taggart was bouncing back every day as a kid, working the fields, trying to make himself a great football player and, on some days, just trying to find food to eat.

Not that long ago, USF was considered the fastest rising new college football program in country. Now it's at a crossroads, and Taggart has been asked to save it.

Conference realignments have slowed to a near halt. USF lost the ground it gained when Lee Roy Selmon played an instrumental role in getting the program into the Big East, which was a Bowl Championship Subdivision conference.

Next year, there will be no BCS, just the so called Big Five. The American Athletic Conference, USF's new home, is on the outside looking in.

USF officials are asking Taggart to "do something" about that; they believe he can. It's why they hired him.

Woodie says Taggart has the personality to get people to respond and work for the common good of the team.

"He is a player's coach and really a good person. The kids know he is for them and not just trying to put a resume together," Woodie says. "He is cool, calm and collected and knows how to build a program from the ground up. Coach Taggart has a unique style. It comes from his life and working and playing for the Harbaugh family."

Henry Lawrence, Manatee County's most successful NFL player with three Super Bowl rings, grew up working the fields with Taggart's parents. He says they instilled a work ethic in their son that has made him successful.

"Willie Taggart is an awesome coach. I don't think it will take three to four years to turn it around at USF," Lawrence says. "He learned from the best, and he learned about hard work from mom and dad. He has the right formula. I worked the fields with his parents, picking oranges, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers. We would leave Florida in June and work our way up to New York and come back in November. Willie is not

afraid of work."

Taggart needs to do more than just win. He has to help the fan base grow to where the Bulls will be the first choice when one of those Big Five conferences expands.

He has to convince recruits that choosing USF over a Big Five school is the right choice. He has to be a man for all seasons.

He has to attract attention and to win.

It will take a lot of work, but Taggart is a workaholic.

He appears to be a genius when it comes to igniting enthusiasm.

At training camp in Vero Beach one day, Taggart woke his players up at 3 a.m. to conduct an unannounced practice. He wanted to see how they react to uncomfortable situations and test how they deal with adversity.

He said later it was one of the best practices he has ever had.

Oh, he gave them time off to go the beach.

"We always talk about how you either get better or you get worse. No one stays the same," Taggart says.

It's all about doing something.

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