From the day Willie Taggart was hired in December, USF football fans have clamored to see former Bulls QB Marquel Blackwell, a graduate assistant on Taggart's Western Kentucky staff last fall, make a homecoming.
Taggart announced Tuesday that Blackwell has been hired as his director of player development, a position that will have recruiting responsibilities and adds a bit of Bulls tradition to Taggart's staff.
"It's awesome," said Blackwell, a program assistant under former coaches Jim Leavitt and Skip Holtz from 2009-11. "I'm excited. It seems like I never leave this place. I've been around for a long time, but I appreciate it."
Blackwell, 33, worked with Taggart's running backs at Western Kentucky, and he has familiar faces at USF, which has five of Taggart's Hilltoppers staff among his eight full-time assistants.
"Last year was a great opportunity for me, being with Coach Taggart and understanding what he's about as a coach," said Blackwell, who holds USF's career records for passing yards (9,108) and passing touchdowns (67). "Being around him, understanding his vision and goals and everything, that will make this transition easy."
The former Dixie Hollins star is excited about assisting USF's recruiting efforts, mining not only his strong local ties in Hillsborough and Pinellas but the network of former Bulls teammates now coaching throughout the state.
"Most of the schools that our guys are at are pretty big schools that produce a lot of prospects," Blackwell said. "I always think this is a special place that does a lot of things. I know (local) kids talk to each other and a lot want to play with each other. Hopefully we can do the things we need to do to keep those guys close to home."
USF also announced the hiring of a director of player personnel, Paul Gonnella, who held the same job on Alabama's national championship staff last season. That move allows former Western Kentucky assistant Stu Holt to be promoted to a full-time assistant as Taggart's special-teams coordinator. Taggart has one assistant opening left, for tight ends and tackles, to replace Larry Scott, who left this week to coach Miami's tight ends.
WHERE IT STARTS: Taggart spent 20 minutes Saturday morning talking with the board of the USF Alumni Association, taking a wide range of questions, such as what his simplest measure of success in his first season would be.
"Going bowling. That should happen here, year in and year out," said Taggart, who is taking over a team that hasn't played in a bowl since 2010. "Our ultimate goal is to win the Big East. That has to be our goal every season. But I want this football team to come together. We can't get any of those things done until we come together as one team."
ROUGH STARTS: To put the softball team's 6-8 start in perspective, the Bulls weren't shut out last season until the 48th game; USF was shut out four games in a row over the weekend, the first time that has happened since 2002. … Even against tough competition, pitching played a huge role in the baseball team's 1-5 start entering Tuesday's game at UCF. The staff ERA was 7.28, and the Bulls have control issues. The team had 14 wild pitches in six games, after totaling 34 in 60 games last year. The Bulls also had hit 16 batters and had more walks (35) than strikeouts (34).