TAMPA — As USF continues its search for a new football coach, Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart picked up endorsements from a pair of locals in ESPN basketball guru Dick Vitale and longtime Bradenton Manatee coach Joe Kinnan.
"He played HS football in my area at MANATEE HS # 1 in USA - Would be a great hire 4 USF-WILLIE TAGGART is a natural . Willie is a WINNER!" Vitale wrote on Twitter.com, where he has more than 400,000 followers.
Kinnan, who was a finalist for USF's original coaching job in 1995, coached Taggart at Manatee and has kept in touch with him throughout his coaching career.
"I think he would be a great fit," said Kinnan, who has Manatee in the state semifinals this weekend. "He has a tremendous demeanor, a very charismatic person. I've never heard anybody say a negative word ever about Willie Taggart. (In an interview) he'll blow it away. He is a class act, about as humble as they come. Just a wonderful, wonderful person and would be a great role model for the University of South Florida."
USF is seeking a successor to Skip Holtz, fired Sunday after three seasons and a 5-16 record in Big East play. Kinnan said Taggart's recruiting success at Western Kentucky would translate well to a USF program in his old backyard — Taggart signed Manatee running back Leon Allen this past year over a scholarship offer from Miami, Kinnan said.
Kinnan said he recently got a call from USF, confirming his contact information for follow-up calls as a reference for Taggart.
NOT NUTT YET: Foxsports.com reported that former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt was interviewing for USF's opening, but Nutt, reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, said he has only had a preliminary conversation with USF and has not lined up an interview yet.
"I think it's a really super program and I have a lot of interest, but right now I'm kind of waiting to see," said Nutt, who has worked as a studio analyst for CBS Sports this season and is eager to return to the sidelines. Asked if he expected to interview for the job, Nutt said that would be "premature" to speculate.
TO BE MISSED: Stan Heath's memories of the late Rick Majerus go back to when he was in high school in Michigan and attended a Marquette basketball camp when Majerus was an assistant. The two met again when Heath was an assistant at Michigan State in 2000, as the Spartans beat Majerus' Utah team on the way to a national title.
Heath remembers Majerus working an Arkansas game as an ESPN analyst, and his first question during a pregame scouting conversation was, "What's the best burger joint in town?"
"He was a tremendous coach. Basketball is going to miss Rick," Heath said. "Not just a great coach, but a great personality. He'll be missed."
THIS AND THAT: Following news of the departure of associate athletic director Vicki Mitchell next month, USF has a second key fundraising staffer leaving the athletic department. Bulls Varsity Club director Kemel Thompson, a former USF hurdler who competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, is leaving for new job outside college athletics. ... LB Sam Barrington and CB Kayvon Webster will represent USF in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Jan. 19.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.