Commentary | Head football coach Willie Taggart sets priorities for USF Bulls' rebound season

adell@bradenton.comJune 25, 2014 

MANATEE

When Willie Taggart comes home to Palmetto, he makes it a point to drive by the Oakwood Apartments.

Taggart and his four siblings lived there with their parents, Gloria James and John Taggart, migrant workers who toiled in the fields to put food on the table and make rent money.

The priority was to do things the right way and never look for excuses.

Taggart is taking that approach as he gets ready for his second season as USF head football coach.

He was in Manatee County on Tuesday as part of a statewide tour select USF coaches are making to reach out to the school's fan base.

Taggart wasn't able to visit Oakwood. But he didn't need to be reminded of how he worked his way out of there.

He is using that experience to help raise the USF football program from the scrap heap.

Taggart inherited a train wreck from Skip Holtz last season and saw his Bulls finish 2-10 behind an offense that ranked 120th in scoring.

"I know our guys can play better, but our priorities have to be in place; they were not last year, and that's a big reason we were not the team we wanted to be," Taggart said. "Since the offseason, my job has been to make sure our priorities are right. We can't let our guys do it. We have to show them how to do it, and we are not going to waver. You are going to do it our way or find somewhere else to go to do it your way."

Taggart quarterbacked Manatee High to consecutive state finals, helped Western Kentucky win the I-AA national title as its offensive coordinator and returned there in 2010 to resurrect a program that was among the worst in major college football.

The USF football team had a laundry list of misguided priorities. They involved taking care of business off the field, working out, being on time, being dedicated and doing well in the classroom.

"It's a reason we were not strong and too slow and too small," he said. "Florida teams should not be slow. The kind of ball we want to play you've got to be big and strong."

Another priority for Taggart is doing things his way while incorporating advice from people he trusts.

"I am sticking to my plan and I am not veering off. I don't listen to the outside," Taggart said. "If I do that, then I can't do my job. They hired me to coach this team and get it right. I have to do it my way."

The Bulls have seen results during the offseason. The players are bigger (particularly the offensive line). The 36-year-old Taggart could bench-press more than some of his players last season.

Maybe the Bulls grew up too fast under their first coach, Jim Leavitt. USF played its first game in 1997, became a BCS school in 2005 and was ranked second nationally in 2007.

Fast starts followed by midseason slumps typified USF under Leavitt. Holtz replaced him in 2010 and things fell apart quickly. Taggart was hired to put the pieces back together in 2013.

"The big thing for me is to get everything focused back on what is our vision," Taggart said. "I felt like we got away from our vision. We've got to get back to it and set expectations that are attainable. One thing we need to lock into is getting to a bowl game again and winning a conference championship, something we've never done. We can't skip anything, even if it means taking heat from the outside."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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