BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky had raised "sufficient private funds" to put together a contract offer in October that would have made Willie Taggart the highest-paid football coach in the Sun Belt Conference, Hilltoppers athletic director Todd Stewart said Saturday.
Taggart was hired as USF's coach on Friday and held a news conference Saturday in Tampa.
"He felt announcing a new contract during the season would be a distraction to the team and wanted to keep the focus on football," Stewart said. "We respected that statement and mutually agreed to wait until the end of the regular season to discuss a new contract. This past week we again extended a term sheet that offered him a contract for him to become the highest paid coach in our conference. We were proactive and thorough in our efforts to retain him."
Taggart was making a base salary of $475,000 at WKU. Per stipulations of his contract, USF must play WKU in a home-and-home series in the future and Taggart owes WKU $500,000, the Bowling Green Daily News reported.
The Hilltoppers named defensive coordinator Lance Guidry interim coach for their first bowl game, Dec. 26 against Central Michigan at the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit.
WKU defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said players were set to leave practice Friday when Taggart called a team meeting to reveal his plans. "He (said) he had to do what was best for him and his family," Allen said. "We completely understand that.
"I was shocked, and I really hurt for the young guys because it's probably hard for them to transition."
"Pretty much, it's going to be up to the seniors to lead this team to a bowl," senior safety Kareem Peterson told the Daily News. "We still have a bowl game. We've still got to make history. We can't let one person — like (Taggart) even told us — not one individual is bigger than this team or university."