Bjork backs Taggart, WKU football program

Much of the optimism for a competitive WKU football season was drained after a 44-16 loss to Indiana State Saturday in Smith Stadium.

The loss was the Toppers’ 17th straight home defeat, and dropped their 2011 record to 0-3.

Despite the early-season struggles, Athletic Director Ross Bjork said Thursday that Head Coach Willie Taggart and the rest of the WKU football program has the athletic department’s full support.

“One game, as bad as it was, doesn’t define this program, or doesn’t define a head coach,” Bjork said. “We have to stay the course.”

Taggart’s record as head coach has now stands at 2-13, while the program’s record in its two-plus years as a full-member of the Football Bowl Subdivision has fallen to 2-25.

But Bjork said Taggart, a former Topper quarterback and assistant coach, is still the right man for the job.

He spoke of Taggart being at the stadium after the Indiana State loss, staying up all night reviewing the game film four times.

“No one cares about this program more than Willie Taggart,” Bjork said. “He’s pouring his heart and soul into this program. We believe in what he’s doing.”

One of the biggest obstacles facing Taggart early in his tenure has been the need to mix  players from his first two recruiting classes, both ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference by Rivals.com, with holdovers from former Head Coach David Elson’s teams.

Bjork praised Taggart for sticking by players that arrived at WKU before his coaching tenure began, especially junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

Jakes, who has had to adapt to Taggart’s West Coast offense after playing in the spread under Elson, has either started or seen significant playing time in every Topper game this year.

He’s gone 38-of-69 for 381 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.

“You have to give Willie credit for working with Kawaun, because Kawaun was recruited under a different system,” Bjork said. “As a coach, it’s easy to throw guys you didn’t recruit under the bus. And Willie hasn’t done that to anybody, especially Kawaun. That’s a credit for the plan that Coach has to build this thing for the long term.”

And as for the long term, Bjork said the recent conference realignment phenomenon has made him more thankful WKU is now an FBS member as opposed to the Football Championship Subdivision.

While some have questioned the move by school president Gary Ransdell and Bjork’s predecessor, Wood Selig, to become the 120th member of the FBS, Bjork said life is more stable in college football’s top flight.

“In this time of uncertainty with conference realignment, to me it validates the decision to go to (FBS) football,” he said. “We’re part of that conversation. If we were (FCS) we wouldn’t be part of that conversation. We’d be at the mercy of the 119 programs dictating what’s going to happen.”

Other football notes:

-Bjork said the athletic department is in the process of finding a 12th opponent for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He said they are looking at continuing the Toppers’ series with Kentucky “as an opportunity.” The current contract, which began in 2010 and calls for meetings to alternate between Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington and L.P. Field in Nashville, expires in 2014. Bjork also said the Toppers have booked a game against Hawaii for the 2017 season.

-Bjork said Thursday that WKU will wear red and Middle Tennessee will wear either blue or black when they meet Oct. 6 in Murfreesboro, a move that will become an annual tradition in the series. Bjork said he hoped that both schools wearing their dark uniforms each year would “spice up the rivalry a little bit.”