TAMPA -- USF head football coach Willie Taggart has a vision.
It's along the lines of what politicians call nation building.
Taggart wants to create something resembling a nation state for his USF football program.
The former Manatee High quarterback has built a mythical border on his territory that includes Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Polk, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
USF worked the area hard last year and came up with the highest-rated recruiting class in the AAC.
Taggart and his staff are claiming anything -- or anyone -- within about an hour's drive from the Tampa Bay area.
Howard Schnellenberger put that concept into use when he turned Miami into a national power in the 1980s, using nearly all local kids from what fans dubbed the "State of Miami."
"We are going to milk the bay. All 10 of our coaches including me are going to try and get the top players who live here," Taggart said. "If we could get all the top players there, we would be awful successful. We want to make this place into something special."
After turning around the program at Western Kentucky, Taggart has struggled in his two years at USF, mainly because of prob
lems on offense.
"We've got to score more points. We've got to execute better," Taggart said. "We are going to simplify things on offense and quicken the pace. We are going to do things faster. Our kids are better when they play that way. We will use some spread, but the main thing is to do things quicker."
Taggart has made major staff changes, releasing his defensive and offensive coordinators.
He said he has no set number of wins in mind for next season, but the changes were necessary for the development of the program.
"It was totally my decision. I felt it was best for our football team," Taggart said. "In my head, we just need to get better and get as many wins as we can. We don't want to lose; I am tired of it. We just got to take care of business and it (winning) will come. It goes back to execution. We have some guys who can play and run with the football and tackle. We want to be able to execute at a high level under tough situations."
He hired Danny Hope as co-offensive coordinator in charge of the run game and promoted David Reaves to co-offensive coordinator in charge of the pass game.
Taggart will call the plays with input from those two. He has a connection to Hope, who began his career at Manatee High in 1981 and has nearly three decades of college coaching, including head coach at Purdue from 2009-2012.
"There will be times I need a suggestion, and I'll ask David to give me a pass play or Danny to give me a run play," Taggart said. "During game week, we will work on the offensive game plan together. Both these guys bring energy and enthusiasm."
There has been discussion about Manatee High head coach Joe Kinnan joining Taggart's staff. But earlier this week, Taggart had nothing to say on the subject.
The Bulls ranked 116th out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in scoring, averaging 17.2 points per game in a 4-8 season. It was an improvement over 2013, when USF averaged 13.8 points per game and ranked 120th in going 2-12.
Taggart said he is not under outside pressure or an ultimatum to win a certain amount of games next season.
"There could never be any more pressure than what I put on myself. The pressure is no different than when I got hired," Taggart said. "There are some games we could've won that we didn't, but we are making progress. When I look at all the young guys making plays you get excited."
The Bulls were very young in 2014 and return 14 starters and a specialist. Included in the returnees are the Bulls top five tacklers and nine of the top 12, which recorded 73 percent of the tackles last season.
They return 100 percent of their rushing and passing yardage, including true freshman Marlon Mack from Booker, who led the AAC in rushing (1,041 yards) and was named the conference's rookie of the year. Taggart says the sky is limit for the 6-foot, 195 pounder.
"He is fast, but can be faster, and he's got to get stronger," Taggart said. "He needs to have a better understanding of the game and take care of his body while understanding the blocking schemes; that is what makes a great back, along with being patient and continuing to understand what we are doing. I am excited about his offseason."
Taggart's first year was hindered by getting a late start on recruiting because he wasn't hired until December 2012. In his second year, USF had the highest-ranked recruited class in the AAC, a good part of it thanks to assistant Ray Woodie, the former Palmetto High head coach and player and former head coach at Bayshore.
Nicknamed "The Closer" because of his ability to sign players, Woodie was named the AAC's top recruiter by Rivals.com and was the lead recruiter on about a third of the Bulls' signees. He recruited two four-star prospects, including Manatee High's Derrick Calloway.
"He is a great mentor for the players and what I like in a coach," Taggart said of Woodie. "The players love him, and he is loyal and a hard-working guy. You give him an opportunity, and he appreciates it and wants to be the very best."
Work habits are a big part of what Taggart calls a program's culture and he says that is changing.
"We had a lot of dropped balls, and our offensive line needs to get stronger," Taggart said. "That's something the players can do on their own. The coaches are only allowed so many hours with the players, so our guys have to work on their craft on their own. That is part of changing our culture. Just because you don't have your coach doesn't mean you can't get better. I think they are at that point now that guys are working out on their own."