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WKU's Willie Taggart evasive about USF coaching job

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 04:35 PM
TAMPA -

Fourteen years ago, as a quarterback for Western Kentucky University, Willie Taggart rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns against the University of South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.

Wednesday afternoon, as the WKU head coach, Taggart was equally elusive.

Taggart, considered a leading candidate for USF's head-coaching opening — and maybe others — deflected questions from reporters after leading practice for the Hilltoppers, who are preparing for the Dec. 26 Little Caesars Bowl against Central Michigan.

Reporter: "Will you be the coach here next year?''

Taggart: "I work for WKU. Why wouldn't I?''

Multiple media outlets reported that USF administrators spoke to Taggart in New York, during the National Football Foundation's annual awards banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. One website, 247Sports.com, said USF interviewed Taggart for the job.

WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said he wasn't aware of an interview. Taggart didn't address questions about contact with other schools.

Sunday, after the firing of Skip Holtz, USF athletic director Doug Woolard said he expected the Bulls' job to attract widespread interest. Sure enough, even though Woolard said he won't make any public comments until the new coach is in place, all sorts of candidates have been mentioned.

Taggart, 36, seems to be in his own category. The USF job would be more personal to him.

He's a native of Palmetto who played at Bradenton Manatee High. After his playing career, he coached on Jack Harbaugh's staff at WKU. He became running backs coach for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford University from 2007-09 before returning to his alma mater for the 2010 season.

"Any football program would be very lucky to have Willie Taggart as their head coach," Jim Harbaugh said in a statement released by his current team, the San Francisco 49ers.

The WKU job is also personal for Taggart. His teams have gone 2-10, 7-5 and now 7-5 again, earning the program's first bowl bid. Taggart has often said, "WKU is in my DNA."

Taggart said he addressed the rumors with his players.

"Finally had to say something,'' said Taggart without disclosing exactly what he told the team. "Been fair and honest with them and they understand and they're ready to roll.''

Hilltoppers players said the Taggart speculation won't be a distraction.

"It's only going to go one way," WKU senior safety Kareem Peterson said. "He's either going to be here or not. We really can't control that, and from the looks of things, he's going to be here.''

Many of the other names linked to USF's opening are veteran coaches, including some who didn't coach this season. ESPN reported that USF had contact with former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, 55, who has worked this season for the CBS Sports Network.

Nutt was 135-96 in a 19-season head-coaching career. But he struggled in his last two seasons at Ole Miss, losing 15 of 16 SEC games, including an 0-8 league mark in 2011, before getting fired.

Former Tulane and Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, whose last job was in 2008, has acknowledged USF's potential, but remains coy about his interest.

Former Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis, now a special assistant to Bucs coach Greg Schiano, has been mentioned. But Davis' name also came up for the sudden opening at Florida International, which fired Mario Cristobal on Wednesday.

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