It seems like yesterday when the USF football season was about to begin and the gridiron soothsayers were predicting the end of Willie Taggart.
But their crystal ball was missing some key elements. It didn't know the fight in Taggart and how the presence of some of his assistants would impact things.
Joe Kinnan, the Manatee High coaching legend, joined Taggart's staff as a consultant prior to the
season. Ray Woodie had spent two years bringing in top flight talent with his recruiting that was about to pay dividends.
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Kinnan predicted the miraculous turnaround that ensued, though you couldn't find a lot of people outside the coaching staff who were buying his narrative.
But those who watched him coach Manatee High to five state titles and 290 victories knew he was an offensive genius at any level.
Joe talked and some people may have laughed. But look who's laughing now.
For 2015, USF ended up first in the nation in improvement in rushing offense and 10th in rushing. It was second in team rushing yards per carry and third in increased scoring as it improved its production by 16.4 points per game. The Bulls also showed the most improvement in red zone touchdown percentage, increasing its production from 33 percent to 68 percent.
"When you are able to run the ball and score when you get down there and able to increase your yards per carry, that opens up your passing game," Kinnan says.
It sounds simple, but it takes people to make that happen and USF had a trio of guys who grew up playing football in Manatee County in Taggart, Kinnan and Woodie, who meshed perfectly.
"It happened because we completely changed what we were doing offensively. We went up-tempo, spread the field and were able to run the ball extremely effectively," Kinnan said.
They were honored by the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce on Monday and it was evident their loyalty to each other and where they grew up is a big reason for their success.
Everybody here is curious about Kinnan's exact role. He is listed as senior consultant, which is perhaps a title to describe the person in charge of USF's clandestine offensive scheme.
"I wanted him on my staff because he is a winner and you surround yourself with winners if you want to win," Taggart says.
Woodie, who will take over as the Bulls defensive coordinator, is also a winner, but not on the grand scale as Kinnan because he is in the midst of building his resume.
"Raymond has been with me for a long time and been around a lot of different coordinators. I think he is ready and will have our guys playing at a high level," Taggart says.
When things were bad going into last season no one on this staff was worried. Taggart and Woodie turned the program around at Western Kentucky in their third year and believed it would happen again.
"Sometimes you go through highs and lows, but if you fight through it good things happen," Woodie says. "Coach Taggart perseveres. He is a fighter and knows how to get coaches and players to jell. Chemistry is important and the players love him."
These are three guys who will never forget their roots and loyalty and gratitude are very important to them, which usually translates into players who want to give their all.
"It means a lot to come back home today," Woodie says. "When individuals are from an area it doesn't mean they always come back to it, but we are here to stay. To see some familiar faces, who over the years when I was coming up helped me, is important. It makes you feel good to give back to the community."
Gloria Taggart says she wasn't sure her son would become a head coach, but felt he was a person who had the ingredients to be a successful in the profession.
"Willie was a person who always stuck to his beliefs and hung in there through tough times," his mother says. "He had a great way of handling people and people followed him. He never gave me any problems growing up."
Her presence at the luncheon made it a special day for Willie Taggart.
"The one thing you want to do is always make your hometown proud," he says.