Willie Taggart is on his way to becoming one of the hottest coaching commodities in college football.
What the Manatee High legend has done in less than two full seasons at Western Kentucky borders on miracle-worker status.
When Taggart took over the program at WKU in 2010, it had lost 20 straight and was the laughingstock of college football. The Hilltoppers started this season with four straight losses and were 4-36 before he took them on their current four-game win streak.
Taggart isn’t new to Believe It Or Not feats. He was part of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford that performed the miracle on turf in 2007 when the 40-point underdog Cardinal recorded the biggest upset in NCAA history by beating Southern California.
“The only people who have to believe are the guys in the locker room,” said Taggart, who was the running backs coach and part of a reconstruction project at Stanford that now has that program fourth in the Bowl Chamionship Series standings.
This we know about Taggart.
He knows offense (the West Coast is his specialty), he knows people, and he knows players and how to motivate. We also know if he keeps this up, there is going to be some major program in this country that wants him.
It could happen right here in Florida.
Those rumblings in Gainesville are getting louder, and the Swamp is getting more treacherous.
Taggart could recruit the heck out of the Sunshine State. He already has done that at WKU for a non-BCS program that is in the Sun Belt Conference. He has also become a college football poet laureate.
“All it takes is for one olive to come out of the jar and the rest come out pretty easy,” is one of many Taggartisms floating around the Bowling Green campus.
The best part about Taggart is his stubbornness. He doesn’t believe he can’t win. He didn’t believe it at Stanford, which was 1-11 when he arrived. The first thing he did at WKU was change the culture of the football program, which went 2-10 last year and had never won a game as an FBS program until Taggart’s arrival.
“Find the bull and find the snake and chop their heads off,” Taggart said. “The most important thing is to stay positive and have everyone hold themselves accountable. Coming here, they had nothing but negative stuff to say about our kids. We tried to stay positive and stay the course. What helped me a lot was my experience at Stanford.”
Taggart says he adopted the blueprint used to turn Stanford around. What he adds is the ability to make believers out of naysayers.
“We are just a blue-collar, hard-nosed, tough program that is doing things in a first-class manner,” Taggart said.
Taggart keeps in regular touch with Harbaugh (now the 49ers head coach) and his dad, Jack Harbaugh, who coached Willie at WKU. They bounce ideas off each other every week.
Believing at WKU is not easy just like believing Stanford could beat USC in ’07. Taggart says it has to start with the head coach. He has gotten his kids to believe they can win their conference, where they now stand 4-1.
“I am not surprised to be in the conference race. From day one, that has been our goal,” Taggart said. “We were in all these ball games last year, and a lot of them were up for grabs until the fourth quarter when we let them get away. With that and knowing what our guys did during the offseason, I felt there was no reason for us not to be in the race.”
Taggart implemented the West Coast offense upon his arrival, ditching the spread it had used. He had to teach the system and find players who would fit that style, which is still an ongoing process.
Taggart found a few gems. One is true freshman Boe Brand from Southeast High, who caught a crucial two-point conversion that enabled the Hilltoppers to eventually win their game last week in overtime against Louisiana-Monroe.
“Boe is coming along nice. Athletically, he can get it done, but he came here at 138-140 pounds soaking wet and had to get bigger,” Taggart said.
Taggart is one of the lowest-paid coaches in the country. Now you can make the argument he is the most under paid.
If WKU wants to see this miracle come to fruition, it’s going to have to open up its purse strings or find some wealthy boosters. They are getting a bargain now with Taggart, and that is not going to last.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 745-2112.