Saturday, December 10, 2016

December 10, 2016
WHO: Willie Taggart, head coach South Florida 18-14 (Overall: 40-45)

Taggart, the former head coach at South Florida Bulls, is set to be announced as the next head coach at Oregon. South Florida is a team Duck fans should be familiar with as both Oregon and South Florida rose to the #2 ranking nationally in the 2007 season before meeting in the Sun Bowl. The Ducks came out on top of that match-up and enjoyed a meteoric rise to National Championship contenders afterward.

THE HISTORY: The Bulls, though, went the other direction. Former head coach Jim Leavitt, who was the first coach of the program in 1997, became embroiled in controversy after the 2009 season when it was learned he had assaulted a player and then attempted to convince witnesses to lie to investigators, according to reports.

Following Leavitt’s dismissal, Skip Holtz, son of legendary former coach and television personality Lou Holtz, took over the program. Holtz was mildly successful in his first season, but by year three of his tenure, the Bulls had sunk to a 3-9 record and Holtz was fired following the dismal season.
Enter Taggart.

REBUILDING PAST: Taggart, who is a legend at Western Kentucky as one of only four players in program history to have his jersey retired, came to South Florida from his alma mater. Taggart played under, and later coached under, Jack Harbaugh. The father of Ravens head coach (and Super Bowl Champion) John and his zanier brother Jim, Harbaugh was the mentor for Taggart.
Taggart served as an assistant head coach during Western Kentucky’s last four seasons as a FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) school before departing to work with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford as the running backs coach for three seasons. It was there he continued to hone his skill as a coach, and helped to develop Toby Gearhart into a Heisman Trophy finalist. When Taggart returned to Western Kentucky in 2010, the team had just finished a 0-12 season under David Elson and the rebuild was steep.

The process at South Florida was slow at first as the team won two, then four games during his first two seasons at USF. It was his recognition that his offense was not working well and his defense was playing porous that led him to making significant changes following that second season. Having changed offensive philosophy, combined with two full recruiting classes, his third and fourth seasons leading saw drastic improvement. The Bulls had gone from 3-9 prior to his arrival to 2-10, 4-8, and 8-5 for his third season. It was his 2016 squad, though, which would really catapult Taggart into a national story. With Quinton Flowers doing it all for the Bulls, South Florida is 10-2 with one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Flowers has rushed for over 1400 yards and thrown for over 2500 as the Bulls finished the regular season averaging 43.6 points per game, 223 passing, 292 rushing and 515 total yards per game. In the process the Bulls converted nearly 45% of the third downs and 15 of 16 fourth down attempts

THE ISSUES: Defense and penalties. The South Florida defense was not very good this season; in fact, like Oregon, the Bulls had one of the worst defenses in the nation – in a conference not as good as the Pac-12. They were also the victims of their own mistakes averaging nearly seven penalties per game this season.

The Bulls lost their defensive coordinator, Tom Allen, following the 2015 season when he took the same position at Indiana. Under Allen, the Bulls were respectable allowing 361.2 yards and 21.1 points per game. Prior to this season, defense had not been as much a challenge as Taggart has worked with some of the best defensive coordinators in college football. One of his former defensive coordinators is current McNeese State head coach Lance Guidry who is a very respected defensive coach. With a better budget for assistant pools, expect the staff to be different at Oregon than at South Florida now that he has made the jump. Taggart is very in tune as a recruiter and really resonates with prospects. He has hired some of the best young recruiters around for his work in South Florida and you can be sure that he will do the same at Oregon; he will not follow the Al Golden mistake and simply bring all of his current assistants from Florida to Eugene. That is not the model he followed when moving from Western Kentucky to South Florida and will not be the model he uses coming to Eugene from South Florida.

WHY TAGGART IS A GOOD FIT: Taggart played under legendary Western Kentucky head coach Jack Harbaugh – and worked with his son Jim at Stanford. He is an exceptional offensive coach with a history of offensive success. He was thought to be a potential target at Florida State had Jimbo Fisher left, but as it stands, those cream of the crop Florida jobs all look to be locked up for quite some time. Having decided the time is right, following a 10-2 regular season, Taggart sees the opportunity to take Oregon to the next level. He has plenty of ties on the west coast and is very ingrained in the Florida market.

Taggart also has some of the best endorsements around with former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis Colt head coach Tony Dungy singing his praises. Dungy’s son, Erik, who played for both Oregon and Taggart at South Florida, has repeatedly talked about Taggart being a very good fit for Oregon.
"I was just thinking he's ideal for they want to do out there. The fact that Coach Taggart was at Stanford, he knows the Pac-12 and he's been successful in two places, getting things going. He's young, he's energetic, he kind of fits Oregon's MO. I just think he'd be a good fit," said Dungy recently.

"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. Not just being a coach, but being a person. They taught me how to be a coach, a husband, a father.
The Harbaugh ties are very deep. Deep enough to send him to Jim’s Pac-12 rival Oregon? Time will tell, but as the search is now in its second full week, rumors and innuendo should soon be replaced with information.

Stay tuned to Duck Sports Authority for all of your updated coaching search news!


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