On replacing Taggart, USF’s most popular coach

by Gary Shelton on December 8, 2016 · 0 comments

in College football, College Sports in Florida, general, USF Bulls

Taggart. pulled his UFF team into relevance. /ANDREW J. KRAMER

Taggart. pulled his UFF team into relevance. /ANDREW J. KRAMER

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

Once, there was a man named Willie...

The first loss was shocking. Had South Florida ever been worse? Had a coach ever had a more rotten debut?

It was August 31, 2013, and it's fair to say that Willie Taggart had just done a particularly wretched job of saying hello. His team played McNeese State, one of those walkover games that good schools use to clear their throats. McNeese was a three-touchdown underdog entering a game that everyone thought would be Willie's way of cranking up the bus.

Instead, USF lost.

By 53-21.

You could believe that USF would lose. You could believe it would lose by a  big margin. You could even believe they lose to a itty-bitty program. But all on the same night? It was staggering.

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Taggart will not coach the Bulls in their bowl game./ANDREW J. KRAMER

Taggart will not coach the Bulls in their bowl game./ANDREW J. KRAMER

The realization of how much work he had to do was etched all over Taggart's face. “Nightmare,” he said. He talked about apologizing. He talked about a team that was “mentally fragile.” He admitted that some players had quit. He talked about how much work there was to be done.

Then he did it.

The Willie Taggart ere ended Wednesday when he resigned, presumably in his best Donald Duck accent. No, you couldn't blame Taggart. Oregon is a big-boy job with big-money backing. Taggart will have to do a lot of out-of-state recruiting, but Oregon is a place where that's possible. Oregon will have a bus, too.

That night, who knew that Taggart would be missed when he left. The first USF coach, Jim Leavitt, was a popular guy. But his reign ended in controversy, with allegations he had hit one of his players. (Leavitt denies it; an independent firm said it happened.) The second coach, Skip Holtz, simply didn't win enough. Then there was Taggart, whose team improved so much he outgrew the job.

So why not go? More money. More prestige. More of chance of winning on a national scale.

Yeah, it's a long way from that night against McNeese State. I remember asking the hard question of Willie. Are you big enough for this job? Taggart, without flinching, swore he was. He was right. He made sure he got better players. He got into an offense that fit. He won.

And now he has hit the Oregon Trail. In his wake is a rich assortment of would-be replacements. That's what Taggart earned while he was here: A better replacement.

...Once, there was a guy called Sgt. Hulka.

The one thing that every media person will agree on when it came to Greg Schiano was this: He was a seriously weird dude.

He liked his pasta noodles to match. He wanted the room temperature to say the same. He wanted a bottle of water at ever player's desk during meetings. And, yes, he wanted the toes on the line. Seriously, he would yell that. Once, in a press gathering, he swore he never said it. And the media yelled back, “The heck you didn't. We heard it.”

But, you know, Schiano did a better job with the Bucs than he's given credit for doing. It wasn't his fault that he was in charge when Josh Freeman stopped caring about football. It wasn't his fault that the MRSA virus hit his locker room. It wasn't his fault that Darrelle Revis saw this as a place to go to rehabilitate before renewing his pursuit of the big money.

Schiano had one seven-win season with the Bucs. Then he fell to 4-12, and he was out of here.

Schiano has done a decent job of rehabbing his career since leaving. He's well thought of now as the defensive coordinator of Ohio State.

Does he want to come home? Does he miss Tampa Bay that badly?

Depends. Can anyone assure him that Freeman isn't here?

Once, there was a son named Lane...

Speaking of healing one's career. Lane Kiffin is a much more attractive coach now than he once was.

When he was young, and foolish, Kiffin would change jobs with the wind. He was with the Raiders. Then with Tennessee. Then with USC. Then unemployed. He stepped on toes. He made enemies. He tweakedFlorida. When he left the Vols, he made the street sign “Fire Lane” sound like a good idea.

But this will surprise you. One of the nicest coaches I've ever been around was the day I spent around Kiffin.

I was in Nashville for a Bucs' preseason game, and I drove down to Knoxville to write about the adjustment of former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to the college game. Monte, eternally young, was having a blast. He was glad to see someone from Tampa Bay, and as such, I drew the golden ticket. Pretty much, I had everything I wanted.

That included access to Lane, who sat with me a long time talking about his dad. He took me into his recruiting room, where names were all over the walls. He invited me to a team meeting (members of the media are never invited), where a fight was staged with current LSU coach Ed Oregeron.

It isn't just because of that day that I think Kiffin would be a good hire for USF, especially if the Bulls could get some assurance that Kiffin would stay for 4-5 years. He's been imaginative with Alabama. He's won with different quarterbacks.

Could he win with Quinton Flowers?

You bet.

Would he be a lifer at USF?

You'd lose that bet.

There are other familiar faces in the hunt. Lawrence Dawsey, the co-offensive coordinator at FSU, was a Bucs' receiver (huge on effort, as I remember). Mario Cristobal, the offensive line coach at Alabama, as the head coach at FIU. T.J. Weist is the interim coach. Larry Scott, an assistant at Tennessee, played at USF. Charlie Strong, the ex-Texas head coach, was an assistant at Florida. I'm sure other names will service, intriguing names, hungry names.

And so it goes. USF will sift through the bounty and try to hire a guy who can keep the momentum the school has while completing construction.

This time, there seem to be decent candidates.

Just guessing, but I think any of the bunch could beat McNeese.

Especially Kiffin.

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