USF hires Hilltoppers' Willie Taggart

  • ESPN.com news services | December 8, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. -- Willie Taggart has been hired as South Florida's head coach after establishing himself as one of the nation's top young prospects by turning around a losing program at Western Kentucky.

Taggart replaces Skip Holtz, who was fired after three years.

In his third season at Western Kentucky, Taggart, 36, led the Hilltoppers to a 7-5 record and a spot in the Little Caesars Bowl, the school's first bowl appearance since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2008.

Willie Taggart
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWillie Taggart turned around a Western Kentucky program that was coming off an 0-12 season.

He took over a program that had just completed an 0-12 season and turned Western Kentucky into a winner. After a 2-10 record in their first season, the Hilltoppers finished 7-5 each of the past two years and won at Kentucky of the SEC this September.

Taggart is the second black coach this week to earn a promotion to a job at an automatic qualifying conference school, joining new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, who left Kent State.

Taggart and Hazell are among 14 black head coaches on 124 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and boost the number to eight of 68 in automatic-qualifying conferences.

Before taking over the Hilltoppers, Taggart coached Stanford's running backs, including Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart, from 2007-09.

Taggart played quarterback at Western Kentucky and was an assistant there until 2006.

Taggart attended Tampa-area Bradenton Manatee High School and heavily recruited Florida, the Tampa Tribune reported.

USF scheduled a news conference for Saturday afternoon to introduce Taggart, who grew up in the Tampa Bay area before heading off to play and later coach at Western Kentucky.

The former assistant at Stanford to Jim Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, Taggart takes over a program that went 16-21 under Holtz, who dropped nine of 10 games following a 2-0 start this season.

Western Kentucky, which named defensive coordinator Lance Guidry interim coach on Saturday, had lost 20 consecutive games before Taggart returned to his alma mater three seasons ago from Stanford, where he was the running backs coach.

The native of nearby Palmetto played for Harbaugh's father, Jack, at Western Kentucky in the mid-1990's and was part of the coaching staff there when the Hilltoppers won a national Division I-AA title in 2002.

Taggart arrives at USF with a different challenge than Holtz faced when he was lured from East Carolina to replace Jim Leavitt, who was fired for mistreating a player who had accused Leavitt of grabbing him by the throat and slapping him in the face during halftime of a game.

The Bulls were perceived at that point in their development as one of the fastest rising programs in the country, having been ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation in 2007.

Taggart inherits a team that's been unable to remain competitive in a conference that's also been in decline because of the departure of several members to other leagues. The Bulls have lost 14 of their last 16 games against Big East opponents, and they've finished last in the conference the past two seasons.

USF was 5-16 overall in the Big East under Holtz, who took over a program that Leavitt helped start. Taggart becomes the third head coach in the program's brief history.

The Bulls went 8-5 and appeared in a bowl game for the sixth consecutive year in their first season under Holtz. But a pattern of underachieving that began even before he became coach in 2011, when USF won four straight to climb into the Top 25 only to drop seven of eight to finish 5-7.

Taggart played on a state championship team at Bradenton Manatee High School in 1992. His connection to the Harbaugh family began when Jim recruited Taggart to play for his dad in college.

Information from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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