Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Willie Taggart aims for USF Bulls turnaround in Year 2


In the autonomy narrative consuming college football, USF is filed among the "have-nots," at least in an economic sense. If Alabama and Florida State are the Ali and Frazier of the moment, USF's in the cruiserweight division.

But strip away the business part — the dollars and cents and season-ticket sales and 24-hour league networks — and focus on the roster. At that point, one can't help but realize the Bulls are far wealthier in the "have" department than a season ago.

Physically, they have girth inside and speed on the flank. Internally, they have cohesion. In terms of offensive scheme, they have a clue.

And just as crucial, if not as conspicuous: They have a precedent.

Second-season turnaround? Willie Taggart has pulled it off before.

"And I feel like we're probably (more) ahead of schedule here than we were there," the Bulls coach said recently.

"There" is Western Kentucky. For those less familiar with Taggart-ology, the abridged version: In 2010, the former record-setting Hilltoppers quarterback returned to help resuscitate his alma mater, which had totaled two wins the previous two seasons.

After a 2-10 record in Taggart's first year as coach, WKU finished 7-5 in 2011, rebounding from an 0-4 start to win seven of its last eight.

"Basically, it was holding all the guys to a standard," recalled Tampa Bay Buccaneers tailback Bobby Rainey, who in 2011 was a WKU senior and the Sun Belt Conference offensive player of the year (1,695 rushing yards).

"In our situation, the standard wasn't that high from the previous years. When he got there, he set the bar real high. A lot of guys who were very competitive wanted to meet that standard, so we came together. We knew we wanted to be great, so we knew we had to do the things he wanted us to do."

Three autumns later, Taggart finds himself in a situation strikingly — if not eerily — similar.

The 2013 Bulls, like the '10 Hilltoppers, finished 2-10. Both teams relied on young quarterbacks — WKU sophomore Kawaun Jakes, USF true freshman Mike White — who didn't participate in spring practice. Both offensive lines gave up a litany of sacks (WKU 28, USF 33).

And at the end of those seasons, both coaching staffs scoured west central Florida for replenishments.

Of the 26 signees in WKU's 2011 class, ranked the best in the Sun Belt, 12 were from the Sunshine State. Six of those were from the Tampa Bay area.

Twenty-four members of the Bulls' most recent class, ranked the best in the American Athletic Conference, hail from Florida. Twelve are from the bay area.

"(Recruiting's) always the answer when you want to go in with your scheme and try to turn something around," said Bulls inside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie, a Hilltoppers assistant from 2010-12. "Coach Taggart came in with his plan and we stuck by the plan. The road was rocky, but we just kept pressing forward."

Fowler and Fletcher avenues haven't been much smoother to this point, but Taggart and Co. expected no different.

Recruiting and teaching are processes, and time is a prerequisite. While bringing in his own recruits, Taggart had to implement his own offensive system, a hybrid of the West Coast offense and power running game, with some option and zone-read principles interspersed.

This time last year, most of the Bulls had spent only a few months in the offense. In the case of White and fellow quarterback Steven Bench, it was only a few weeks. Recently, White said he finally has the system "down pat."

"I'm not making excuses for (Taggart), but he wasn't there with his guys (in '13)," Rainey said. "He had to deal with what he had. Now he has his guys in, some of the guys really know him, know the style he is and what he wants from his players. It'll be a big turnaround."

Bulls constituents who have experienced five total wins in the past two years are counting on it. If USF wants to become a "have" in every sense, it must win consistently, thereby attracting fans, revenue and maybe the attention of a power league.

It needs another Taggart turnaround.

"I feel like guys here have bought in to what we're trying to do a lot quicker than we did (at WKU)," Taggart said. "And we have players here that can play as well. But again, it's going to be a process, and everything is good now."

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

USF at a glance

Coach: Willie Taggart: (18-30 overall, second year at USF)

2013 record: 2-10 (2-6 American Athletic Conference)


Area players (* walk-on): Devin Abraham, DB, Fr., East Lake; Rodney Adams, WR, So., Lakewood; Spencer Adkinson, TE, R-Fr.*, Indian Rocks Christian; Austin Aikens, WR, So., Plant*; Zach Benjamin, WR, R-Fr., Tampa Catholic; Josh Black, LB, Fr., Sickles; Juwuan Brown, LB, Fr., Jefferson; Jamie Byrd, S, Jr., Pasco; Lucas Cancio, OL, So., Chamberlain*; Mattias Ciabatti, P, Jr., Hillsborough; Andre Davis, WR, Sr., Jefferson; Mak Djulbegovic, OL, Jr., Carrollwood Day*; Eric Dungy, WR, Jr., Plant; Jordan Duval, WR, Sr., Hillsborough; Tommy Eveld, WR, So., Jesuit*; Tajee Fullwood, CB, Fr., Tampa Bay Tech; Ruben Garcia, LB, Sr., Durant*; Nate Godwin, S, So., Freedom; Nigel Harris, LB, So., Hillsborough; Bruce Hector, DT, R-Fr., Robinson; Zach Hudson, OT, Fr., Sickles; Vincent Jackson, LB, Fr., Jesuit; Mike Love, DE, R-Fr., Countryside; Mike McFarland, TE, Sr., Blake; Rodney Mills, DB, So., Jefferson*; Kieran Pettus, DE, So., East Bay*; Tyler Robb, DB, Jr., Tampa Catholic*; Cameron Ruff, OL, R-Fr., Jesuit; Auggie Sanchez, LB, R-Fr., Northeast; Zach Stewart, LS, Fr., King*; Mazzi Wilkins, CB, Fr., Plant

College football previews


. Florida preview — new center Max Garcia fills a void quickly.


. Florida State preview — can the Seminoles repeat as champs?


. Miami, UCF and other state colleges previews.

Willie Taggart aims for USF Bulls turnaround in Year 2 08/24/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2014 11:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans previews 2017-18 NBA season, predicts Warriors will be dethroned


    Tampa isn't the greatest basketball market. In fact, it's just about the worst.

    Mike Evans and Jameis Winston celebrate after connecting for a touchdown against the Bears in September. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  3. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal on the New Jersey Devils during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  4. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start


    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  5. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]