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Why a Willie Taggart-USF reunion might (and might not) make sense

We know there is at least some interest between the Bulls and their former coach. While we await clarity, let’s weigh the pros and cons.
OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times 
The University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart  gives the bulls sign while leading his football team towards the entrance of Raymond James Stadium in preparation to take on Western Carolina University in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, August 30, 2014.  [JONES, OCTAVIO  |  Tampa Bay Times]
OCTAVIO JONES | Times The University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart gives the bulls sign while leading his football team towards the entrance of Raymond James Stadium in preparation to take on Western Carolina University in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, August 30, 2014. [JONES, OCTAVIO | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019
Updated Dec. 5, 2019

USF and former Bulls coach Willie Taggart have at least some mutual interest in a reunion. How much interest and how mutual it is remain to be seen.

As we await clarity on the future of Taggart and USF, let’s look at why a second act might (and might not) work out for both parties:

Why it might make sense

What are the odds Willie Taggart has another introductory news conference with USF?

He has done it before: Taggart led the Bulls to their best season ever, a top-20 run in 2016 when they went 11-2 (including a bowl win after Taggart left for Oregon). That isn’t ancient history, like Greg Schiano rejoining Rutgers. USF hasn’t changed that much since Taggart left, which suggests he might be able to pick up where he left off. Giving all of his success to Quinton Flowers is unfair revisionist history; Taggart recruited Flowers, let him play quarterback and rebuilt his offense to utilize his unique strengths. And it worked better than anything USF has ever done.

He checks the right boxes: USF’s next coach needs to be an energetic salesman, preferably with local ties, who can recruit from Tampa Bay out. That’s Taggart. In his final game as Bulls coach, a 48-31 romp of UCF in 2016, 10 Bulls starters hailed from a Hillsborough or Pinellas County high school. The fact that he has a history of exciting offenses that uses the state’s plentiful amount of speed helps, too.

MORE BULLS: Coaches uninterested in community engagement need not apply for USF football job

He knows the landscape: With an off-campus stadium, obvious facilities needs and a location inside a major metro, USF is a unique job. Taggart knows all of this because he has lived it. He won’t need any time to reacquaint himself, so he can start fixing USF’s big-picture issues almost immediately.

He might be cheap: Taggart’s Florida State buyout is about $18 million, although that could be subject to negotiation and an offset at his next job. If he’s still getting paid not to coach the Seminoles, perhaps his asking price is lower than some other candidates. In that case, the savings could go to a bigger salary pool for his assistants or to USF’s much-needed infrastructure upgrades.

RELATED: USF football coaching search: Time for some Bulls bracketology

Why it might not make sense

Florida State coach Willie Taggart is seen on the sidelines during the first quarter against Virginia Tech at Doak Campbell Stadium Monday, Sept. 3, 2018 in Tallahassee. OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Taggart failed at FSU: Taggart’s Seminoles were poorly coached. They collapsed too often in the second half because of conditioning, tactical adjustments or both. They were undisciplined. Add in his time at Oregon, and a Taggart team has led the nation in penalties per game for three consecutive years. His Tallahassee tenure will make him a harder sell in Tampa.

RELATED: The three beginnings that led to Willie Taggart’s end at FSU

Sequels don’t often work: Randy Edsall led UConn to historic heights (by Huskies standards) and has bombed in Round 2. Bill Snyder faded in his Act II at Kansas State. Bobby Petrino flamed out in his second go-round at Louisville. Not every retread fails, but the recent track record suggests a Taggart sequel probably won’t go as well as the original did.

RELATED: Greg Schiano is going back to Rutgers. How do retreads fare in Act II?

The AAC has risen: USF clearly has regressed since Taggart left, even as its conference collectively has gotten better. In Taggart’s final USF season, the AAC had five top-50 teams (including the Bulls), according to S&P+ advanced metrics. This year, the league has seven, including two in the top 15. If Taggart’s shortcomings were exposed at FSU, they could be exposed in an improved AAC, too.

Taggart caught lightning in a bottle the last time: In his previous stint, Taggart was surrounded by some incredibly bright football minds (Joe Kinnan, Danny Hope, Dick Tomey, Tom Allen). In fact, the Gulf Coast Offense as Bulls fans know it didn’t really click until Kinnan and Hope came aboard. Neither are likely to join Taggart this time around. Flowers isn’t coming back, either. So what are the odds Taggart rekindles that success with new faces around him?

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