Alan Dell

Commentary | Area sports optimists see opportunity in every difficulty


Every winning team needs a resident optimist. It goes along with the thinking that pessimists see difficulty in every opportunity and optimists see opportunity in every difficulty.

It's also better for your health. Optimists live longer and are generally happier.

Optimists are not hard to spot. You can recognize them through their words and actions or a combination of both. They make people around them feel better about themselves.

Longtime Manatee High football assistant Dennis Stallard is one.

He has been a special-teams coach for the Hurricanes since before the current players were in diapers.

It's not a job most coaches covet. Coaching special teams is hard. You don't get much credit, and is there anything worse than having an opponent run back a punt or kickoff for a touchdown? Most fans want to take down the coach.

But Stallard has a unique perspective, thanks to his optimism.

"The advantage of coaching special teams is that I get to know all the guys," Stallard says. "Most coaches are very familiar with just their position players, but I get to work with so many guys."

Stallard started coaching in Orlando, coached at Southeast in the late 1980s and came to Manatee in 1993. It doesn't seem as if he will ever leave because his optimism wouldn't allow it.

"I was wired to do this and feel very blessed to live in paradise, which is Bradenton," Stallard says. "I have a great job teaching accounting and doing the jobs program. And I am terrible at golf and don't fish, so if I were to retire I would have no idea of what to do."

He also shares his hope in many ways. Including the Beyond the X's and O's program he helped start at Manatee. It emphasizes character building.

Willie Taggart

The optimism for Willie Taggart was evident the first day he showed up for Manatee High football practice as a scrawny kid determined to win the quarterback job. He took the Canes to a state title in '92 and state final in '93 and went on to become an All-American at Western Kentucky.

Now he is head football coach at USF, a job not for those easily intimidated.

In 2007 as an assistant coach at Stanford, Taggart made headlines when he said the 41-point underdog Cardinal would beat USC, which it did in a game considered the biggest upset in college football history.

Some said he was in

sane, the same accusation leveled at former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, under whom Taggart worked at Stanford.

Now isn't that ironic, considering Harbaugh's success with the 49ers.

Taggart has showed he is not afraid to push the envelope and challenge the norm. It's something you can't do unless your cup is half full.

In 2012, WKU upset rival Kentucky 32-31 in overtime, thanks to a two-point conversion that had a Hilltoppers receiver catch a lateral and throw a pass back to the quarterback. They were down 31-30, and if it failed WKU would've lost and Taggart would've borne the brunt of the criticism.

He is a target for some disenchanted, inpatient USF fans. They don't understand the mess he inherited from the Skip Holtz regime cannot be fixed so quickly. This is not Alabama or Ohio State.

Taggart lives by the credo optimists see the big picture, and that involves an element of patience. Pessimists don't have that patience because they see doom that must be avoided at all costs.

Willie McNeal

It's not certain whether the Tampa Bay Bucs will invite Willie McNeal back for another look after his recent workout for the team, but that shouldn't deter the former Braden River football player from being among the area's all-time optimists.

He was virtually homeless in high school, living off sardines and canned foods for long stretches. But he refused to allow circumstances to dictate his life and is working on his master's degree.

Dick Vitale

With his fundraising efforts for pediatric cancer research, Vitale has created an army of optimists who despite setbacks see hope at the end of the tunnel for those kids.

It would be impossible to list all the optimists who made an impact in our area, but these four are deserving of mention.

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