Bulls football in 'critical' phase, Taggart says
While addressing several-dozen boosters Tuesday evening in a TopGolf lounge area, Willie Taggart unveiled his latest mantra.
With a tinge of urgency in his admonitions, the man who brought you "Get on the Bus" and "Do Something" pleaded for "unrelenting fan support."
USF's fourth-year coach uttered the phrase three times during his 15-minute speech, the first of at least four he'll deliver at various bay area spots this month. By summer's end, you may see "unrelenting fan support" emblazoned -- acronym-style -- on everything from beverage huggers to bumper stickers: USF Needs UFS.
"We're at a critical time in our football program, a critical time," Taggart told the audience. "And going forward, there's a role for each and every last one of you to play. ... And it's essential."
More like crucial.
With the possibility of Big 12 expansion still in play and the chorus for an on-campus stadium growing in volume, USF football finds itself at arguably the most pivotal juncture in the its 20-year history. Earning a place at the Power Five table -- either in the short or long term -- almost certainly will require a considerable boost in ticket sales.
So will any sparkling new ball park tucked between Fowler and Fletcher avenues. Hence the reason fan support -- of the unrelenting variety -- is at the core of Taggart's booster-circuit message this summer.
"We have work to do as a football team, we have work to do in packing (Raymond James Stadium)," Taggart said. "I know winning comes first, I know that. But as we start to win consistently, we're gonna need that fan support to really help us take the next step."
At this point, it's increasing at an encouraging rate, considering more than 12 weeks remain before the Sept. 3 season opener at home against Towson.
The school reported Wednesday 2,300 new season tickets have been sold, and roughly 90 percent of last year's season-ticket holders already have renewed. For a program that had an actual home attendance average of 17,801 last season (according to the Tampa Sports Authority), that momentum must continue surging.
"Are tickets important? Absolutely. We have to sell more season tickets," athletic director Mark Harlan told reporters after unveiling his department's five-year strategic plan last month.
"I don't run from that. It's a key focus of the strategic plan. We have to challenge our community to support us more profoundly. They've been waiting to invest in a winner over the last few years. I think we've got one now. We have to get our corporations behind our program, and that's what we're setting about doing."
The other components for success -- namely a quality product and administrative support -- are in place, Taggart indicated. Fan support is the final cog.
Hence the reason he "deputized" the audience members Tuesday, urging each of them to bring five new season-ticket holders aboard in what he called "Coach Taggart's Call to Action."
"We can win all the ball games we want," Taggart said. "But until we all get back and do it together and do it the right way, that's when this program's gonna be what we all know it can be. ... You always talk about a sleeping giant, that's when that giant's really gonna wake up, when everybody wakes up."