By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - New USF football coach Willie Taggart has made a bold prediction for Super Bowl Sunday.
"I think this is going to be one of the best Super Bowls ever," he said without wavering. "You have two well-coached football teams that play with a lot of emotion and energy, and play football the way you're supposed to play it. I think this is going to be a big-time Super Bowl."
So what does he know? Pretty much everything there is to know about Jim and John Harbaugh - his other brothers - who will lead the 49ers and Ravens into battle at the Superdome. Oh, and don't forget the brothers' dad, Jack, his wife, Jackie, and the rest of the Harbaugh family for that matter.
"Ever since I was a player, they welcomed me into the family," Taggart said.
By now USF fans know a lot about the Taggart-Harbaugh connection that's helped Coach T become the man he is today. It all started when Taggart was an all-state quarterback at Bradenton Manatee High School and was being recruited by Jack, who was trying to save a Western Kentucky program from extinction.
Taggart will never forget the phone call that really started it all.
"My sister said a guy by the name of Jim Harbaugh called and he wanted me to call him back. I called him back, it was Jim Harbaugh and I couldn't believe it," Taggart said.
"The only Jim Harbaugh I know plays for the Chicago Bears," a young Taggart told Harbaugh during the returned call. "He said, 'That's me,' and I was like, 'Yeah, right.' "
Sure enough the caller proved to be legit and what's transpired has been a great story about a very close professional and personal relationship between Taggart and the Harbaughs.
Taggart went on to rewrite the WKU history books as a quarterback and he later worked with Jim, Jack and John on his path to becoming a head coach at his alma mater. Taggart tirelessly credited each Harbaugh after he put on a Bulls hat for the first time in December. Interview after interview, USF's new leading man talked about the impact the Harbaughs have had on him - out of respect and a lot of love.
"I wouldn't be where I'm at without them,'' Taggart said. "Without the Harbaughs, I wouldn't be the head coach at the University of South Florida. They showed me the way. They gave me the blueprint."
The personal side of the story also qualifies as storybook material. Taggart's best man at his wedding was Jim, his role model, and he'll easily tell you a heartfelt tale about any other member of the family, especially his second mom and dad.
"It all started with me as a player, taking me in, teaching me and showing me how to be a man," Taggart said. "There were things I could talk to Jack and Jackie about that I wouldn't talk to anyone else about. I can call (all of them) and know they'll give me great advice."
Special Plans for Sunday
It's Wednesday afternoon at USF's Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. Taggart sits on a couch in his new office that's still very much a work in progress more than a month after he got the job. To his credit, Taggart hasn't had much time to hang pictures of the past because of his present task.
"It's going well. Recruiting right now is at the forefront of everything," Taggart said. "We're trying to seal a couple of guys up and hold onto them. Then, the wife (Taneshia) and I are going to take a trip out Saturday to watch the game."
Taggart's reward for completing the sprint known as recruiting is a special reunion with the Harbaugh family and another chance to see his big brothers coach less than two months before he leads the Bulls into spring practice.
"It's going to be great. It's the biggest game that's out there and both of those guys are coaching in it," Taggart said. "Both are very deserving of being there. It couldn't have happened to two better guys and a better family. If you know about them as a person, you can see there's nothing but greatness in them and I'm excited."
Maybe Taggart can bring a nice picture of the bunch back to the new office. Either way, he knows this reunion will never be forgotten.
"It's going to be sad for the one that loses, but it's going to be great for the Harbaugh family," he said.
Taggart and Taneshia included.