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USF Bulls

Taggart gets glowing reviews for open USF coaching job

Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 03:07 AM

The search is on for a new head football coach at the University of South Florida. The resumes should continue to be floated. There's much debate over who will replace Skip Holtz.

Every speculative list seemingly has a constant:

Willie Taggart.

He's the third-year coach at Western Kentucky University (7-5), a Sun Belt Conference program that is headed to the Little Caesars Bowl on Dec. 26. He was an assistant coach on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Stanford University.

And he's a local.

Taggart, 36, played quarterback at Bradenton Manatee High School. He has recruited extensively in the Tampa Bay area. Thirty Florida players – from such places as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, Lakeland, Auburndale, Fort Myers, Orlando and Miami – are on the Hilltoppers' roster.

"If USF doesn't get him, somebody else will,'' said Armwood High coach Sean Callahan, whose senior quarterback, Darryl Richardson, has been offered a scholarship by WKU. "Willie Taggart is a hot name right now.''

USF athletic director Doug Woolard, stealth-like, said he won't offer any public comments until the search is completed. Sunday, Woolard said USF won't use a search firm in the traditional sense, leading some to wonder whether a leading candidate already has been identified.

Monday, 247Sports.com's Josh Newberg, one of the most plugged-in recruiting analysts, reported that Taggart, Florida International University head coach Mario Cristobal and Clemson University offensive coordinator Chad Morris had been contacted by USF.

The names don't stop there. Other prominent former coaches linked to the USF opening include Ron Zook (Florida), Randy Shannon (Miami), Tommy Bowden (Clemson) and Houston Nutt (Arkansas, Ole Miss). Former Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis, now a special assistant to Bucs coach Greg Schiano, has been mentioned.

Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, in the same job for two USF seasons under Holtz, could be a natural fit. Some have included both coordinators at the University of Florida – Dan Quinn (defense) and Brent Pease (offense).

Taggart, though, makes sense on many levels. He only has three seasons of head-coaching experience, but will receive high marks from the Harbaugh family. He played quarterback for WKU coach Jack Harbaugh.

In fact, Taggart rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns in a 1998 victory against USF at Raymond James Stadium.

Taggart was co-offensive coordinator when WKU won the Division I-AA national championship in 2006, shortly before the program advanced to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Plant High coach Robert Weiner said Taggart made a nearly successful Stanford recruiting pitch to Panthers quarterback Aaron Murray, who eventually selected Georgia over Florida. Last season, Weiner was impressed by Taggart's recruiting of wide receiver Austin Aikens, who lost some interest after suffering an injury.

"He not only stayed with Austin, he believed in him and let him know how much they really wanted him,'' Weiner said. "I'm quite impressed by Willie. He seems to be incredibly organized and structured. His personality is great for recruiting.''

Weiner said he was saddened by the dismissal of Holtz, whose son played quarterback at Plant. He said USF now needs "someone with great energy to mobilize the fan base.''

"You learn a lot by just watching how someone treats people,'' Weiner said. "Skip Holtz has that kind of magic. So does Willie Taggart.''

"If Willie gets the job, no question that USF wins the recruiting battles they need to win in Central Florida,'' Callahan said. "He's smart and personable. All that other stuff – the fluff – it's not there. I feel it would be a really strong hire.''

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: @JJohnstonTBO