Taggart to coach South Florida

Lucas Aulbach

Three years after taking over a WKU program that had just finished an 0-12 season, coach Willie Taggart has been named the next coach of South Florida.

Taggart told players in a team meeting Friday evening that he had accepted the job offer from USF before he flew to Florida to accept the job later that night.

WKU held a press conference Saturday morning to make the official announcement. Athletics director Todd Stewart said he and Taggart were in contact with each other throughout the hiring process and he’s not upset with the coach’s decision.

“He and I have had constant dialogue through the whole thing and I’m very comfortable with the way he went about it,” Stewart said.

Taggart has been connected to the WKU program for a long time – he was a four-year starter at quarterback for the Toppers from 1995-98. He stayed with the Toppers as an assistant for several years serving as offensive coordinator in WKU’s 2002 Division II National Championship.

He took a job as running backs coach at Stanford in 2007 and stayed there until 2009, when he was rehired at WKU after the Toppers released then-coach David Elson.

He has been at the head of the Topper program for the past three seasons and compiled a 16-20 record at WKU – 2-10 in his first year, and 7-5 in each of the past two seasons.

The time of the announcement puts the Toppers in a predicament. WKU is less than three weeks away from its first bowl berth as an FBS program. The Toppers are set to take on Central Michigan Dec. 26 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry has been named interim head coach for the Little Caesars Bowl. Stewart said there is no time frame for when WKU will hire its next head coach.

The news came as a surprise to WKU’s players as well. While Taggart was at practice Friday afternoon, senior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said the Toppers didn’t know their coach was leaving until he called the team meeting after practice ended.

“He came in and told us he got the job at South Florida,” Allen said.  “He had to do what’s best for him and his family and we completely understand that.”

Guidry will be the third person, after Taggart and Elson, to serve as head coach at WKU for many Topper seniors.

Senior tight end Jack Doyle said with Taggart gone, the seniors on the team have a responsibility to help the underclassmen on the team through the transition.

He said he was inspired by something Stewart told the team Friday.

“Todd came in to the team meeting this morning and gave us some wise words,” Doyle said. “One thing he said was, ‘Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent of how you react.’ It’s up to these seniors to get this team right and let them react the right way and get this victory for WKU.”

Coaching a bowl game is familiar territory for Guidry, who guided Miami to a win in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl as an interim coach.

“I’m 1-0 in bowl games, so I’ve got to get 2-0 –I don’t want to be 1-1,” Guidry said. “I think everybody’s going to be OK the closer we get to the bowl game. The kids are going to be even more excited.”

Guidry said the Toppers will resume practice Sunday in preparation for the Little Caesars Bowl.