Coach Taggart has work to do on and off the field

Posted: June 20, 2013 in Football

This was the scene at the end of the 2012 football season, the few people that went to those last games.

The 2012-2013 football season was one of the most painful things to watch (yes, even worse than 2011-2012).  Week in and week out we saw the same mistakes, same brutal defeats and the same song and dance from coaches and others about the state of program.  Some tried to hold out hope that at some point during the year it would turn around, but what they saw was a complete unraveling of the football program, 3-years in the making.  Boos, bags over the heads, and a firing of a coach after just a year before was given an extension, was the state of the football program at the end of the season.  They were truly dark days for a once proud and rising program that had fans believing that the best was yet to come.

Yet, after 3-years of watching a program fall apart, the administration made a strong move and hired Coach Willie Taggart to rebuild and re-establish the USF football.  In just a few weeks after stepping on campus, Taggart secured a strong recruiting class, opened up the competition all across the roster in the spring practice, and continues to work non-stop in the recruiting cycle.  But while he has done and said all the right things so far, he still has a lot of work to do.  Not just on the field, but with the fan base as well.

Athletic Director Doug Woulard, the same guy who gave Holtz an extension two years ago, made the smart move by firing him after a disastrous 3-9 season.  The extension to Holtz left many wondering why he deserved it after a 5-7 season mark the year before.  Even though many are still critical of Woulard, he made the start move to fire Holtz and cut ties after a bad tenure in Tampa.  After the Holtz debacle was over, Woulad worked hard in the coaching search. After a few names out there were mentioned, he made a strong move by hiring Willie Taggart out of WKU.  A local star and rising coach, Taggart was one of the hottest names in the college world and Woulard made a huge move to help rebuild a crumbling football program.

Coach Taggart has a lot to do on the field to turn around a losing program and a two year absence from a bowl game.

Coach Taggart took over late in the recruiting period without a coaching staff, leaving him with a ton of work to do with only a little bit of time before signing day.  Yet, somehow, without sleep I continue to think, Taggart not only kept the recruiting class of 2013 together, he also landed big time commits like Derrick Calloway, names that no one had coming to Tampa.  Taggart put together a solid staff, began adding top recruits, and put together a strong spring practice, all in a matters of just a few months. All of these steps are huge for Taggart as he tries to rebuild and undo the destruction Holtz did to the program.

The Bulls have gone two straight years without a bowl game and haven’t been able to even get towards the top of the conference standings.  Last season, following an awful 2011, the Bulls found new ways to lose games, either getting blown out, failing on defense in a late quarter drive, or just throwing the ball away.  What was once a proud defense in the past, finished with just two interceptions on the year, one coming from a defensive tackle.  The last two years have been hard to watch on the field.  Coach Holtz and his staff didn’t do a great job developing the talent that was here, didn’t recruit the major needs of the team, and were not able to coach the players they had, making it some of the ugliest football to watch.  Now with Coach Taggart in place, the offense already seems more focused, running a pro-style system instead of the spread, option, pistol whatever it was last season.  The defense is going to get better as well.  Everyone is back to square one and competition will be the key to getting the best players on the field (didn’t see Holtz do that).  Even though Coach Taggart and staff haven’t coached a single game yet, the team already seems better for it.  But it is not just what the team is doing on the field that Taggart has to address, it is the fan base that he has to bring back and reconnect with.

Coach Taggart has to do as much work on the field with the team as he has to do off the field to re-gain the trust of the fans.

Last season, paper bags were commonplace around Raymond James Stadium.  The boos rained down as the Bulls lost game after game.  What was once a stadium full of green shirts, became an empty stadium of red seats.  Coach Holtz, who was once seen as a the answer to USF football, became the most hated man, undoing what Coach Jim Leavitt had built in just a few short years.

I wasn’t on campus when Coach Leavitt started the football program, but when I came to USF in 2005, I was part of a building tradition, a growing program that was upsetting big teams, getting into bowl games, and starting to gain the reputation as an up and coming program that would contend in the Big East.  I was there when the Bulls upset Auburn, I was there when USF upset WVU and we stormed the field.  I camped oustide in Leavitt-town waiting for tickets.  Those were some of the funnest moments I have ever had.  However, those days were gone once Holtz took over.  In his final two years, there were always plenty of seats available, boos became the norm, and people usually left the stadium cursing and wondering how much worse it could get (tended to get worse each week).

Enter Coach Taggart.  After dawning the green and gold, Coach T has worked non-stop visiting fans across the Tampa area as luncheons, speaking at events, and attending games to meet and talk with USF supporters, fans, and alumni.  Coach T has been nothing but smiles, using his trademark “Do Something” quote to challenge, revive the fanbase, and bring energy back to the fans.

Last season, we would watch Holtz after each loss continue to talk about his faith in the team, how they were still competing, and thought they were just a few plays away from turning the entire thing around (how many plays again?)  It became the same trash each week and Holtz and the team became the joke of the campus.  Fans grew tired of the same old speech we received after each bone-headed decision (like the time-out against Miami, smooth) and the attendance at the home games dropped big time.

Taggart has done everything he can before the season has started to get the fans back.  From all the work he has done and all the work he will do in the future, he will do everything he can to get the fans back in the stands.  While winning games is the ultimate cure for the fans, having a coach that connects to the fans and brings life back to the program, will go even further to bring those who turned their back on USF football back to Raymond James Stadium.

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