TAMPA - The University of South Florida has named Willie Taggart its head football coach, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Doug Woolard announced Saturday. Taggart comes to USF after spending three seasons as head coach at his alma mater Western Kentucky, where he led a dramatic turnaround for the Hilltoppers. Prior to taking the lead at WKU, Taggart had a very successful run at Stanford, helping build the Cardinal into a national power.
Prior to Taggart’s arrival at WKU, the Hilltoppers had lost 20 consecutive games. But after just one year of transition, Taggart guided the school to two consecutive winning seasons, culminating in its first bowl appearance, the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Under Taggart’s leadership, WKU posted 14 wins in 2011 and 2012 after the program won just four games the previous three seasons combined. The Hilltoppers went from 2-6 in 2010 Sun Belt games to 7-1 in 2011, marking the largest one-year turnaround in conference history. WKU won 12-of-14 games between the end of 2011 and the start of 2012, with the only losses coming to LSU and Alabama, both of which were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time, and most importantly, WKU secured the top recruiting classes in the Sun Belt Conference in both 2010 and 2011.
After guiding the Hilltoppers to two wins in his first season, Taggart saw his squad start 0-4 in 2011. That’s when the turnaround began. WKU went on to win seven of its last eight games. The only loss in that stretch came to No. 1 LSU in Baton Rouge. The Hilltoppers went 7-1 in the Sun Belt Conference to finish second in the league. The only league-loss was a four-point setback to eventual champion Arkansas State.
The five-win difference in Sun Belt Conference play represented the biggest one-season turnaround in league history. Only two teams in all of the FBS - Houston and Arkansas State - experienced bigger turnarounds in terms of overall wins from 2010 to 2011.
In just three seasons, Taggart saw three different student-athletes named to All-America teams and 23 Hilltoppers selected as All-Sun Belt performers. Running back Bobby Rainey was selected to five different All-America teams in 2011, and six total over his final two years in uniform. Rainey also earned back-to-back Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year awards.
Rainey’s replacement in 2012, Antonio Andrews, racked up 2,977 all-purpose yards during the regular season, including 1,609 yards rushing, which currently sits just 274 yards away from breaking Barry Sanders' (Oklahoma State, 1988) all-time record for all-purpose yards in a single season. Andrews currently leads the nation, averaging 248.1 all-purpose yards per game, which ranks third all-time in FBS history.
Before joining the Hilltoppers, Taggart served as running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-09. He joined the Stanford coaching staff following a 1-11 season in 2006 and was instrumental in the development of the Cardinal offense and running game that has become a staple of that program’s three-year BCS run. Stanford, ranked as high as 14th in the nation by the Associated Press in 2009, posted an 8-4 regular-season record with wins over nationally-ranked USC and Oregon. Stanford led the Pac-10 in total offense (441.4 ypg.), while ranking second in the conference and 11th in the nation in rushing offense (224.3 ypg.). Stanford's 2,692 rushing yards in 2009 broke the school's single-season rushing yardage mark that had stood since 1949 (2,481).
In 2009, the Cardinal were led by senior running back Toby Gerhart, who under Taggart's tutelage ranked second in the nation in rushing (144.7 ypg.) and earned the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back. Gerhart carried a cumulative 3.25 grade point average as a management, science and technology major. He also rushed for a Stanford single-season record 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns in 12 games in 2009, breaking his own single-season rushing record of 1,136 yards set in 2008, and was invited to New York City for the 2009 Heisman Trophy Award presentation. He finished second in the final balloting in the closest race in the award's 75-year history. Gerhart, who was also named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, was one of only two Pac-10 players named to the first team on both the All-Pac-10 Team and the Pac-10 All-Academic Football Team. The Cardinal's Sun Bowl appearance in 2009 marked the school's first bowl game since 2001.
Taggart was at the helm of the Cardinal running game that finished second in the Pac-10 Conference in rushing offense in 2008, averaging 199.6 yards a game on the ground. Stanford's season rushing total of 2,395 yards was the third-highest mark in school history. In addition, Taggart's work with Gerhart helped him become just the fifth running back in school history to go over the 1,000-yard mark.
Prior to his arrival at Stanford, Taggart spent the previous eight seasons on the WKU coaching staff (1999-2006) and helped guide the Hilltoppers to eight-consecutive winning campaigns during the stretch. He worked with current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh in his first three seasons of coaching from 1999-2001. Taggart started his coaching career as WKU's wide receivers coach in 1999 before working with the quarterbacks from 2000-06. He was also the co-offensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002, helping lead the Hilltoppers to the Division I-AA national championship in 2002, and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2003.
Under Taggart's guidance from 2003-06, quarterback Justin Haddix set school career records with 8,890 yards of total offense, a 57.1 completion percentage, 50 touchdowns and a 137.28 pass efficiency rating. Haddix also finished his career ranked second all-time on the Hill with 541 completions and 7,929 yards passing.
Taggart helped coach an offensive unit that set school records for points (432), total yards (5,479) and first downs (263) en route to the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national championship. The Hilltoppers ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency and sixth in rushing, and averaged 38.8 points per contest in four playoff victories.
In Taggart's first year calling plays in 2000, WKU ran for 293.4 yards per contest, leading the Gateway Football Conference and ranking second in the country in the category as WKU claimed the league title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the I-AA playoffs. In his first season in 1999, WKU ranked eighth in the nation and first in the conference in rushing.
Taggart's efforts helped WKU quarterbacks earn all-conference mention in three consecutive seasons - Jason Johnson (2000), Donte Pimpleton (2001) and Jason Michael (2002).
Taggart also spent his collegiate playing days at WKU (1995-98) and was only the third WKU athlete in the past half-century to hold down the quarterback slot for the Hilltoppers for four straight years. Taggart - who set 11 WKU school records - had his jersey retired on October 23, 1999. He finished his career as WKU's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (47), ranked second in scoring (286 points), pass efficiency rating (127.71) and rushing yards (3,997), tied for third in most 100-yard rushing games (17), and tied for fourth in touchdown passes (30). His rushing yards were the most in NCAA Division I history at the time for a quarterback.
In each of his last two collegiate seasons, he was a finalist for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, which is an honor given annually to the top offensive player in I-AA football. Taggart finished fourth in the balloting in 1997 and seventh as a senior the following year. An All-American as a senior, he was also the 1998 I-AA Independents' Offensive Player of the Year. Taggart was recruited to WKU by Jim Harbaugh to play for his father, Jack.
Taggart graduated from WKU with a bachelor's degree in social sciences in 1998.
As a prep standout at Bradenton Manatee High School, he was a first team all-state and all-conference selection as a senior after guiding the Hurricanes to the state 5A Championship game. He led MHS to the state title his junior season and helped the school post a 26-4 record during that two-year span, while recording more than 3,000 yards passing and 975 yards on the ground.
Taggart and his wife Taneshia have two children, Willie Jr. and Jackson.
The Taggart File
Born: August 27, 1976
Hometown: Palmetto, Florida
College: WKU, 1998
Children: Willie, Jr.; Jackson
1994-98: WKU (Quarterback)
1999: WKU (Wide Receivers)
2000: WKU (Quarterbacks)
2001-02: WKU (Co-Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks)
2003-06: WKU (Assistant Head Coach / Quarterbacks)
2007-09: Stanford (Running Backs)
2010-12: WKU (Head Coach)