Alan Dell

Commentary: Taggart can’t be measured by dollars

Willie Taggart is the best coach money can buy.

He might be earning a Wal-Mart type salary, but he is producing Neimus Marcus results.

Right now Taggart gives Western Kentucky the best return on its dollar.

It’s not yet time to measure his success with wins and losses. He is doing well in recruiting, and that will ultimately determine his fate.

In a recent report by USA Today listing salaries of FBS coaches, he ranks fifth from the bottom.

The former Manatee High quarterback earns $225,000 a year, which means 115 head football coaches take home a heftier paycheck. A few schools did not report salaries, but it’s doubtful any of those earned less.

By comparison, new Florida head coach Will Muschamp just signed a five-year deal that will pay him $2.7 million annually and his resume is blank under head coaching experience.

In-state rivals Joker Phillips earns $1.7 million at Kentucky and Charlie Strong makes $1.6 million at Louisville. June Jones, who was hired last year to resurrect an SMU program that has not yet fully recovered from the “death penalty,” is being paid $2.1 million.

If the salary is low, you can bet the recruiting budget is not up to modern day standards.

But Taggart can do the two things that make successful college football coaches: he can recruit, and he knows how to use talent when he gets it.

Best part is that he does it with a smile mixed in with some humility. He has proven nice guys can win the recruiting wars.

You don’t need to wear the scowl of a Nick Saban to impress recruits or be a Lane Kiffin and act like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve while looking like Pinocchio.

He also has the perfect sidekick in assistant coach Raymond Woodie, another Manatee County product and relentless recruiter.

The duo pulled off a coup this week when they got Jon Dowling to commit to the Hilltoppers. Dowling is the biggest recruit in WKU football history. But he won’t be the last five-star product Taggart lands.

Former Manatee High standout running back Ben Axon is available after leading Butler CC to the national junior college runner-up spot.

He is considering WKU, and why not?

Taggart was the running backs coach at Stanford and played an instrumental role in molding Toby Gerhart into a Heisman Trophy runner-up and NFL draft pick.

“He’s definitely been a big reason for my success, in terms of understanding the game-reading safety rotations for blitzes, footwork, ball-handling, all the little intricate details that make you a better player,” Gerhart said.

Recruiting for Stanford is like climbing Mt. Everest with its high academic standards that are similar to Ivy League schools.

In choosing WKU, Dowling kept talking about honesty. Apparently he felt that commodity was in short supply when he played at Florida this year, leaving the Gators before the season ended.

Taggart could’ve stayed at Stanford, let the WKU head job pass and wait for a better opportunity than taking over a program that went winless the previous season.

But he doesn’t scare easy.

At Stanford, Taggart beat out some of the top SEC and ACC programs for high level recruits, including current Cardinal offensive lineman David Yankey and receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson, getting them to come cross country from Georgia.

The competition for Dowling is stiff and was going to get tougher with Oregon and Michigan among the schools seeking his services. It most likely won’t stop until signing day on Feb. 2, 2011.

You never know what 18-year-olds are going to do or want; but the one constant is their desire for an honest coach.

WKU is becoming what USF used to be under former head coach Jim Leavitt; a haven for area players who flew under the radar or saw their dreams evaporate for various reasons at a I-A program.

There is a gold mine of talent in Manatee County and right now he has his pulse on it.

Alan Dell, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.