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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Taggart’s bus will be back, but USF needs work

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Published:   |   Updated: December 4, 2013 at 09:21 AM

TAMPA — South Florida football coach Willie Taggart, down to his final game (relax, gun jumpers: we mean this season) says he saw something last Friday after a wrenching near miss at Central Florida. USF athletic director Doug Woolard’s car wasn’t the only casualty in Orlando. Willie’s bus took another hit, too. But Taggart found hope in his players’ tears.

“I told our staff that it could be the defining moment for our football team going forward,” Taggart said Tuesday. “Because that was the first time after a game where I saw our entire football team look like they actually cared about a loss. It actually hurt those guys after the ball game. In games before that, you saw it from a lot of guys, but not enough.”

There’s been a lot of Not Enough this season for Taggart’s Bulls.

One second, we grinned at his first news conference, Taggart talking about everybody on the bus and let “Coach T” drive. Next second, the thing was going over a cliff against McNeese State. Now a loss at Rutgers would leave USF with a 2-10 record — the worst season in school history.

There’s no way around that, or that the Bulls offense — Willie’s offense — has made only 10 touchdowns. If you’d told Taggart that before the season ...

“I’d have told you to go see a doctor,” Taggart said.

Hey, Will Muschamp has had cruddy offenses his whole time at Florida and he’s still working there.

Here, straight from the auto repair shop (not really), is Doug Woolard, who has a lot riding on his Taggart hiring.

“(Willie) has exactly the same qualities today as when Coach Dungy and I sat down and interviewed him,” Woolard said. “He’s a high quality individual. He certainly stayed positive. He has great work ethic. It’s clear that our players and our staff are buying into a foundation that he’s setting for the future.”

Taggart poured more cement on that foundation Tuesday, dismissing seniors Mark Joyce and JaQuez Jenkins for violating team rules. Willie’s way remains unbending on accountability.

“You have to be consistent about it,” Taggart said.

Winning — he’ll have to be consistent about that. Taggart knows it, too, though it doesn’t keep him awake at nights. He’s a positive thinker.

“But we live in a ‘Now’ world,” he said. “Even so, you have to stay the course. I come to the job every day, work hard, give great effort. I can’t come to work every day worrying about my job. That’s not doing justice to my kids. Worrying about your job, I think that’s where guys get themselves in trouble.”

I like Taggart. But he needs an offense. He needs more consistency at quarterback. He needs to make real inroads in recruiting, especially locally. He needs: results.

“He’s going to need an opportunity to get some of his own players in place who can fit this system,” Woolard said.

Taggart can only lean on his years at Western Kentucky, which lost 10 games in his first season and then went 7-5 his second and third years. USF could use some of that love.

“It’s frustrating,” Taggart said. “I hate losing. I don’t care whether it’s marbles or playing pick-up with my son. I don’t care what it is. I just hate losing. I want our football team to hate it. But I understand that the University of South Florida football program didn’t get to this point overnight. It was a process to get to this point and it’s going to be a process to get out of it.”

He said, “What gives me hope for the future is our kids didn’t quit, they kept fighting throughout the whole year, throughout all the negativity and not a lot of success. They kept fighting. I always tell them, ‘You’re not a loser until you quit.’ ”

Willie Taggart will steer the bus again in 2014.

It better pick up speed, fast.

That’s life in the “Now” world.

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