Fennelly: Dungy supports Taggart for Oregon, hears it from USF fans

Tony Dungy hears it from USF fans after he touts Willie Taggart for the Oregon job. Associated Press
Tony Dungy hears it from USF fans after he touts Willie Taggart for the Oregon job.Associated Press
Published December 7 2016
Updated December 7 2016

Tony Dungy's social media world has been ablaze the last few days.

All because the broadcaster and former Bucs coach told ESPN's Brett McMurphy — and maybe a few people he knows at Oregon — that USF coach Willie Taggart is a good fit for the vacant Oregon football head coaching job.

"USF fans are livid," Dungy said over the phone with a laugh. "They think I'm a traitor. They're killing me. And all I'm saying is if someone asks me about Coach Taggart, I'm not going to say he's a bad coach, don't interview him. I won't lie.

"I was just thinking he's ideal for they want to do out there. The fact that Coach Taggart was at Stanford, he knows the Pac-12 and he's been successful in two places, getting things going. He's young, he's energetic, he kind of fits Oregon's MO. I just think he'd be a good fit."

Tony Dungy and Jim Harbaugh.

Two nice references on Willie's resume, eh?

Yes, some USF fans are irate. Seems like just yesterday that Dungy was part of USF's pitch to the Big 12 as an expansion candidate.

USF fans: Hooray for Tony!

Now he's talking about Taggart and Oregon.

USF fans: Why doesn't Dungy mind his own business?

I see where Dungy is coming from. His son, Eric, finished his college career playing for Taggart at USF but also played for Oregon.

"People think I'm trying to send Coach Taggart out the door," Dungy said. "I'm not. Not at all. But Oregon is one of those places where you can win the national championship. My son went there and I know people who are out there, some of the decision makers.

"If they ask me about Coach Taggart, I'm not going to say, no, you don't want him, because I want him to stay at USF. Sure, I want him to stay at USF. But I'm going to tell them what I think."

He won't lie.

The real question is what Oregon thinks.

The school's athletic director has reportedly met with both Taggart, 40, and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin. I still say Taggart is a long shot for the job, a tier-two possibility.

Tier I is the moon. This is Oregon. The Ducks think a lot of themselves. They think big. Real big. With the biggest sugar daddy in college sports, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, I'm not sure Oregon will rest until it at least phones the Untouchables, like — wait, wait, don't laugh— Nick Saban and maybe even that NFL coach in New England.

"Nick, good luck in the playoffs, but are you sure you don't want a swing at this?"

"Bill, it's Phil. Call me."

We know how long a reach Oregon thinks it has. Knight and the Ducks did reel Chip Kelly back in after he was poised to become Bucs coach in 2012. Greg Schiano got the Bucs job after Kelly stepped away. Now Schiano is rumored to be a candidate for the Oregon vacancy. Ain't life grand?

But there's another side to Oregon: outside-the-box thinking. The same thinking that led the school to once make Kelly its head coach though he had never been one, and just two years after Kelly was offensive coordinator at … New Hampshire.

That's Oregon. A young coach with energy has a shot, especially if the school shows him the new glow-in-the-dark uniforms and he says, "Those look super!"

That could be Taggart's opening if the Untouchables say no.

Taggart would be just as enticing as anyone else, including Florida's Jim McElwain. Taggart has the energy and the offensive ideas and the turnaround success in two head coaching stops. Dungy liked what he saw when he was part of USF's search process that led to Taggart's hiring.

"Eric played (Taggart's) second season there," Dungy said. "And even though he wasn't winning yet, he never deviated from the plan. He never panicked. He didn't change. I loved that. Seeing him when it kind of wasn't going well reminded me of my first year with the Bucs. You still have the plan, still have faith in what you're doing. That tells me something."

That's no lie.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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