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Team Kia or Team Cadillac? Area high school coaches split on Willie Taggart

TAMPA — Clearly veteran Hillsborough High coach Earl Garcia wasn't speaking for all of his local peers when he publicly blasted former USF coach Willie Taggart on national signing day.

But he wasn't a vitriolic voice in the wilderness either.

Since saying Wednesday that Taggart "had absolutely no relationship with local coaches," Garcia's claim has been corroborated by some, contradicted by others.

Fourth-year Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said he "never had any relationship with Taggart." But Pinellas Park's Kenny Crawford indicated he was "okay with Willie," adding the two have enjoyed a longtime relationship.

In a phone interview Thursday evening with the Tampa Bay Times, Taggart said he was shocked upon learning of Garcia's comments and believes they might stem from Taggart hiring Plant's Robert Weiner instead of Garcia for a spot on his inaugural Bulls staff in early 2013.

Weiner had a change of heart and stepped down only days after being named USF receivers coach. On Thursday, Garcia said he never sought a position on Taggart's staff.

"The only thing I can think of … he wanted me to hire him when I first got the job there and I didn't," Taggart said. "And ever since then it hasn't been the same."

Taggart resigned in early December to accept the same job with Oregon after winning 17 of his final 21 games at USF. In his last game as Bulls coach, a 48-31 rout of UCF, nine of the Bulls' 22 starters — and 14 players on the two-deep chart — were from a bay area high school.

But Thursday, some suggested that local representation was in spite of Taggart and his staff's relationship with local coaches, not because of it.

"I had one meeting set with (Taggart) for noon, but he showed up three hours late," Thompson said, "so I didn't even meet with him because I had things to do. I never spoke to him after that."

Mike Gottman, Durant's coach for more than a decade, said he took several of his players to a USF camp one summer under the impression that Taggart and some of his "main coaches" would be there. None were, Gottman said.

Tom McHugh said Taggart stood in Pasco High's coaches office his first week on the job and told McHugh he would offer a scholarship to offensive lineman R.J. Scaife (now at Western Kentucky).

The offer never arrived, and McHugh said when he called Taggart's cellphone, someone else answered and told him he was mistaken about the offer.

"I was done with them after that," McHugh said.

"I'm right there with what Earl said," Gottman said. "Taggart did not foster relationships with local coaches. You want the coach of the local university to have a good connection with the local high schools, and in my opinion Taggart did not."

Others cast Taggart in a much brighter light. Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle, a Hillsborough quarterback for Garcia in the mid 1990s, said USF "has always been very good to Jefferson and the needs of our players they've signed."

Tampa Bay Tech coach Jayson Roberts, who has watched former Titan Tajee Fullwood flourish as a USF safety, said he also had a good relationship with Taggart. "(Taggart) invited me to speak at his coaching clinic, which I did," Roberts said. "And everything went great."

Garcia also was invited to speak at USF's clinics, Taggart said, but never responded. Two of Garcia's players — linebacker Nigel Harris and defensive back Michael Hampton — signed with USF on Taggart's watch.

Running back Duran Bell was part of new Bulls coach Charlie Strong's inaugural class, but he committed to USF while Taggart was coach.

"I'm like, 'Where is this coming from?' " Taggart said of Garcia's comments. "Really, he doesn't have any legs to stand on because we still get guys from Hillsborough."

Longtime Armwood coach Sean Callahan suggested some coaches' problems weren't necessarily with Taggart but instead the USF assistants recruiting their respective schools.

Callahan indicated he felt Armwood didn't become a big priority with USF until defensive coordinator Tom Allen — a former Hawks assistant — was hired in 2015. Allen remained at USF one season before accepting the same job at Indiana, where he's now head coach.

Hawks defensive standouts Mekhi LaPointe and Jabreel Stephens signed with the Bulls on Wednesday, but Armwood didn't have a USF signee in the Taggart era.

"When Taggart got there, it started off slow, and Tom Allen got there and it got much better," Callahan said. "And Coach (Charlie) Strong has only been here a little bit, but he has been very good. All in all, Armwood really can't complain, even though there have been lapses."

Similarly, former Plant City coach Greg Meyer said he appreciated Taggart and Allen for granting a preferred walk-on spot to 2015 Guy Toph Award winner Markese Hargrove, who is at USF on an academic scholarship.

But Meyer said he had serious issues with other Bulls staffers he refused to name.

"There were guys on that staff that were not doing things on the up and up as far as just basic relationships go," Meyer said. "But Willie himself, I liked."

Times staff writer Rodney Page and correspondent Scott Purks contributed to this report. Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Team Kia or Team Cadillac? Area high school coaches split on Willie Taggart 02/03/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 3, 2017 9:41pm]
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