Coach Earl Garcia: USF goes from 'KIA to Cadillac' in getting Strong for Taggart

Willie Taggart, 40, was hired in December as Oregon's new head coach.
Willie Taggart, 40, was hired in December as Oregon's new head coach.
Published Feb. 2, 2017

TAMPA — Legendary Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia said Wednesday that he's ecstatic Charlie Strong is coaching at USF, and he's equally pleased former coach Willie Taggart is gone.

"USF football has gone from a KIA to a Cadillac," said Garcia, who has coached 42 years, compiling the second-most victories in Hillsborough County history at 244, 10 behind former Chamberlain coach Billy Turner.

"Willie Taggart had absolutely no relationship with local coaches, and Charlie Strong has already shown us that he is interested in the area."

Garcia, who has spent the past 24 years at Hillsborough High, said he is far from alone in his feelings.

"In all my years I have never seen more local coaches pull against South Florida than when Taggart was here," Garcia said. "We never saw Taggart. He did not communicate with us. He alienated a whole bunch of people."

Nonetheless, Taggart's coaching stock continued to rise on the national scene after he won 18 of his last 22 games following his 7-21 start at USF.

The 2016 Bulls also set a program single-season record for victories (11), cracked the Associated Press' top 25, and eclipsed numerous team and individual offensive records.

In the wake of that success, Taggart, 40, was hired in December as Oregon's new head coach.

Enter Strong, a 56-year-old who was hired at USF after getting dismissed as the head coach at Texas. Strong coached the Longhorns for three seasons and finished there with a 16-21 record.

Strong's resume, however, goes much deeper. Before 2017, Strong coached at nine universities in a 34-year career, including four separate stops at the University of Florida. Overall as a head coach, he owns a 53-37 record.

Despite his record at Texas, many agree that Strong replenished the Longhorns' talent and depth. His last two Texas signing classes were ranked 10th and seventh, respectively, by 247Sports.

"Let's just say I have total faith in Charlie Strong," Garcia said. "I think everyone in the area has faith in him. He is a winner and he is a gentleman."

One of Garcia's 2017 star graduates, athlete Duran Bell, said he was waffling on his commitment to USF after Taggart left, but after one phone conversation with Strong, he felt comfortable again.

"I felt great about playing for Coach Strong," said Bell, who signed with USF on Wednesday. "I feel great now."

Added Garcia: "In the short time after Charlie was hired, I have already had far more conversations with Charlie and his staff than I had in all the years Taggart was at USF. I really, really believe Charlie is going to be great here."