Notes: Taggart reflects on first year as coach, prepares for crucial offseason

Zach Greenwell

The 2010 season was full of highs and lows for Head Coach Willie Taggart and WKU, but in the end, it marked progress.

Taggart reflected on his first season as head coach during his final media availability of the season Tuesday, but he was already ready to turn his attention to the future.

He said the Toppers were back in the weight room at 6 a.m. Monday morning, beginning an offseason of high expectations.

“Guys were fired up, and that’s good to see two days after our last game,” Taggart said. “Guys are ready to move on and get ready to get our 2011 team together. I think they all believe, and the positive of the 2011 team is that they don’t have a lot of negative stuff they have to deal with.”

WKU was burdened by the weight of 20 straight losses coming into this season. There was also a complete turnover in coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems, and Taggart said he was pleased with how quickly the players adapted.

“One thing we wanted to do as a staff coming here was make our football team competitive again,” he said. “We felt like if we could become competitive, we’d be in a lot of these ballgames, and I think we did that.”

The Toppers eventually broke the streak with a win at Louisiana-Lafayette and later found another at Arkansas State, but the season was riddled with adversity as well.

Four of WKU’s losses in Sun Belt play were by seven points or less – two of them by just one point.

Taggart said it frustrates him at times that the Toppers weren’t able to pull out those games, but that 2010 was a solid foundation for what he hopes is just the beginning.

“During the year, there were times where I was questioning myself and if I was doing the right things,” he said. “But dealing with our players and how they handled things reassured me that we’re doing the right things and going in the right direction.

“Two games was improvement, but by no means is that our expectations around here. We want to win multiple Sun Belt championships, and our guys know that whatever we did last year wasn’t good enough.”

Recruiting trail

If there’s anything that Taggart doesn’t like about being the head coach, he said it’s that he doesn’t get to dive into recruiting as thoroughly as he used to.

Taggart can only visit recruits during the NCAA Contact Period, which runs now through the end of January. He also only gets one visit per recruit, so he said this period is crucial if WKU wants to bulk up its roster.

“We need guys at every position. We need depth,” Taggart said. “I think we have a lot of really good football players, and I think a lot of guys just forgot how good they were. We just need guys to come in and enhance what we have and create some depth so that when you get toward the end of the season, you can still play with the best of them with injuries.”

Taggart said he learned during the year that the Toppers don’t currently match up physically with all the teams in the Sun Belt. Part of that can be fixed through recruiting, but he also said it means the current players have to be committed to conditioning and weights during the winter.

“We’ve got to get bigger and stronger,” he said. “I think we competed with everyone, but physically I don’t think we’re as strong or big as some of these teams. Football’s got to be very important to us. We’ve got to find time. We don’t get a lot of time with them, but that’s what major college football’s about these days.”

As is typical with every season, Taggart said he’ll also keep a watchful eye on the movement of his staff.

He said he hopes to keep all of the current coaches in place for consistency’s sake, but that if someone decides to move on, his motto has always been to “replace them with someone better.”

“We want guys that want to be here,” Taggart said. “We feel like we have a special program here, and those are things we can’t control. If someone goes somewhere else, so be it. But I think we have a good staff that wants to be here.”

Jakes’ job to lose

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes will get another crack at spring football.

He was the incumbent going into last spring but injured his ankle playing pickup basketball and had to watch as junior Matt Pelesasa came nipping at his heels.

Jakes eventually retained the job during fall camp, but Taggart said the competition now opens again for Pelesasa, freshman Brandon Doughty and any other quarterbacks he brings in.

“It’s on them to prepare and go out and perform and take his job,” Taggart said. “And it’s on Kawaun to go out and prepare and keep his job. When we go into the season, whoever our quarterback is our guy. That’s who we’re going to go with once that time comes, but it’s going to be wide-open competition.”

Jakes completed 97-of-197 passes this season for 1,098 yards, with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

Taggart at first said Jakes needed to be a “gym rat” to take advantage of another spring opportunity. But perhaps recognizing the relation to basketball with that phrase, he re-worded his offseason challenge to the sophomore.

“He’s got to be a film rat,” he said. “He’s got to be in there watching tons of film. Kawaun’s just like everyone else – he has to get better. We recruit guys to come in and take jobs, and he has to compete just like all the rest of them.”