COLUMN: Taggart’s best weapon is his enthusiasm

Zach Greenwell

Recruiting football prospects to WKU is kind of like balancing someone walking a tightrope.

The potential benefits and perks keep them walking the line. But the minute they get distracted by the negatives, off they go.

With an enthusiasm that hasn’t wavered since WKU’s season ended in December, Head Coach Willie Taggart has already shepherded at least 19 recruits from one side of the rope to the other.

Signing Day arrives on Wednesday, and Taggart and his staff have put together a recruiting class that should finish atop the Sun Belt Conference.

The group includes eight players rated three-star prospects by — three more than Taggart produced in his first recruiting class that topped the league.

Now, WKU has a lot to sell, including its brand-new facilities and chance for immediate playing time.

But there’s also a lot of snags in the sales pitch. The Toppers’ 4-32 record over the past three seasons doesn’t do it any favors.

Its membership in the Sun Belt and small-town feel in Bowling Green also don’t always appeal to prospective players.

So how has Taggart gotten past that? By making believers out of the players he visits.

Taggart could read this column and take offense to the negatives I suggested about WKU. As he should.

It’s his job to defend his school, especially with recruits watching intently. But what makes Taggart special — and earns recruits’ respect — is that he believes every word he says.

Even Taggart claims WKU is in his DNA. It’s what drew him away from Stanford to man this program, and it’s what lights up his face when you ask him about the Toppers’ glory days.

That passion isn’t lost on high school players trying to find a college that feels like home.

Several of WKU’s current verbal commitments talk about taking someone’s job when they arrive. They talk about building something special. Something they can leave their mark on.

That’s how Taggart has to sell a program that hasn’t won much lately — by making recruits believe they have the power to change.

There’s no denying Taggart is a player’s coach. At 34, he’s likely to be mistaken for a player in a lot of settings.

Legendary Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made that mistake in the two’s first encounter, asking Taggart what Sun Belt team he played for.

People won’t be making that error much longer if Taggart continues to rattle off the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt each year. More and more recruits will also start to remember the name.

It’s obvious recruiting is a challenge Taggart loves. During one interview in the 2010 season, he made the comment that the one drawback to being a head coach is he doesn’t get to hit the recruiting trail as often.

The head coach gets just one chance to convince a player in person that his school is the place to be.

So far, a lot of people have been buying what Taggart’s selling.

Verbal commitments don’t mean a player won’t have a change of heart. Until Wednesday, they’re still balancing on the edge of that tightrope.

That’s when we’ll find out how many of them are truly on board with Taggart’s vision for WKU. But I promise you this — Taggart expects every player who’s given him a verbal to end up on campus.

Because Taggart’s a believer at heart.

And that always makes for a good salesman.