New Coach Reset: South Florida's Willie Taggart
First-year USF coach Willie Taggart looks to bring the Bulls program back to the levels of success seen under Jim Leavitt.
Over the next several weeks, we will be catching up with the coaches preparing for their first season in a new location and/or role. From recruiting to staff moves and personnel decisions, we will take a look at how the first months have gone and preview the 2013 season ahead. Today's subject: South Florida coach Willie Taggart.
Coaching experience: Willie Taggart, 36, returns to his home state for the first time since leading Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee High School to the 5A Championship Game as a first-team all-state quarterback. Taggart was recruited by Jim Harbaugh to play for his father, Jack, at Western Kentucky. After graduation, Taggart joined the Hilltoppers staff as an offensive assistant and remained at WKU until 2006. Taggart then spent three seasons on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford before returning to his alma mater as head coach in 2010.
Reason for the change: South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard showered Skip Holtz with compliments regarding the Bulls' excellence in the classroom and community during his tenure. But Holtz's inability to show the same improvement on the field resulted in his dismissal. The Bulls' win total decreased each season under Holtz, and back-to-back 1-6 conference records represented rock bottom for the program.
The First Months
2013 Recruiting Class Ranking (according to 247Sports composite rankings): No. 53 nationally, No. 3 in the Big East.
Notable Prospects: Miami athlete Lamar Robbins chose the Bulls over Louisville, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Taggart also convinced 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle Derrick Calloway to flip his commitment from Louisville to USF just weeks before national signing day. The defensive line got another boost with Deadrin Senat, an Immokalee, Fla. native that had offers from South Carolina, Florida State, and N.C. State.
Off-field: "Coach T" does not need to say much with a belt on his shoulder and Hulkamania doing all the talking.
Fan reaction: While Taggart's Tampa-area connections indicated a possible upgrade for in-state recruiting, some Bulls fans were hesitant to praise the hire due to his 16-20 overall record at Western Kentucky. But considering the current state of USF football, most fans were pleased to land a potential "rising star" in the coaching ranks. More than 25 percent of the 2012 Western Kentucky roster was made up of Florida natives, so the fans were able to look past the troubling record and hope for a resurgence on the recruiting trail.
Advantages: Taggart's coaching resume and connections in the Tampa area will provide plenty of opportunities to turn around USF's current slide. The 24-player recruiting class -- which anked just behind Louisville in the Big East according to 247Sports -- was a great start, and the Bulls will have a chance to reset themselves in the conference pecking order with all the membership change in the American Athletic Conference. Better performance in the conference will lead to better bowl games, and that recruiting will only get easier as exposure increases for the program.
Toughest challenge: The American Athletic Conference appears to be a winnable league for the Bulls moving forward. USF will be expected to compete annually with the likes of Cincinnati, Houston, and in-state rival UCF for the top spots in the conference. Unfortunately, competing in the AAC guarantees little in the form of national prominence. The school has been working on improving the future non-conference schedule, but there is a little margin for error when it comes to gaining national prominence outside of the five power conferences.
2013 Outlook: The best news for USF fans in 2013 is the eligibility of two key transfers. Quarterback Steven Bench is eligible immediately after transferring from Penn State this offseason, and former Notre Dame defensive end Aaron Lynch will join the team after sitting out in 2012. Taggart told CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman that Lynch reminds him of current San Francisco 49er Aldon Smith, and it's possible the Bulls will use different packages to move him around. Bench will compete against Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd for the starting quarterback position this fall, and with a brand new staff and scheme it is fair to assume that no player has an edge at this point. The Bulls return six starters on defense, with linebacker DeDe Lattimore and defensive back JaQuez Jenkins leading the group.
The key for a return to the postseason in 2013 will be the quarterback position and establishing an effective rushing attack in Taggart's pro-style system. The schedule includes non-conference meetings with Michigan State and Miami, so a strong showing in AAC conference play will be necessary to reach the postseason in year one of the Willie Taggart era.
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