Notes: Taggart learning to deal with expectations, criticism as coach

Eleven games into his first season as WKU’s head coach, Willie Taggart said he’s realized he can’t make everyone happy. “No matter how many games you win or lose, someone’s always going to be upset about something, and that was kind of a reality check for me personally,” he said.

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Willie Taggart said he’s an easy-going guy, and he’s happy as long as everyone else is happy.

But in the midst of a 2-9 season, Taggart said not everyone in the WKU fan base has been pleased — even after the wins. So with time, Taggart said he’s learned that you can only do so much.

“I came in with the mindset that I just wanted to make everyone happy,” Taggart said. “I felt like I could make everyone happy, and I didn’t. It was an eye-opener for me. You’ve got to stay locked into the vision that you want for your program, and you can’t make everyone happy. You won’t make everyone happy.

“No matter how many games you win or lose, someone’s always going to be upset about something, and that was kind of a reality check for me personally.”

Taggart said he wasn’t exposed to nearly as much criticism during his time as a player at WKU. But then again, the Topper teams from his playing days were racking up a lot more wins.

Taggart said he understands the frustration. He’s even hearing it from his mother, who he said questioned his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line with a 13-point lead against Middle Tennessee last weekend.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes fumbled on the play, and it was returned 99 yards for a touchdown. The Blue Raiders went on to win the game, 27-26.

“The next day she called and said, ‘Why’d you go for it?'” Taggart said. “Like I said, you can’t make everybody happy. Mom will sugarcoat it for a little bit, and then she’ll tell you how she feels too. And that’s fine.”

Senior offensive lineman Mychal Patterson is one of many WKU players who’s been around the criticism longer than Taggart.

Patterson said he’s sure Taggart’s learned, as the Toppers have along the way, that listening to every critic doesn’t help matters.

“You can’t worry about what a lot of people say because if you do, then you just become a statistic,” Patterson said. “Everybody’s got their own opinion about what’s going on, but you’ve just got to try to have a narrow sight and keep your eyes on the prize.”

Taggart said he’s not abandoning hope on the people who’ve decided to jump ship on the program. He said he won’t worry about them in the meantime, but there will be a seat waiting for them if they decide to come back.

“I wasn’t expecting as much negative stuff,” he said. “I was expecting a little more positive because we’ve been beaten down. Don’t keep beating us down. How about building someone else up? If I had it my way, I’d want everybody to pack Smith Stadium and stick with us no matter what, especially right now.

“But winning will take care of a lot of that.”

Still ‘Bobby’s world’

Junior running back Bobby Rainey has been the constant talk of the media’s recent availability with the football team, but then again, it’s hard not to talk about a player who’s rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in a season.

It was pointed out Tuesday that Rainey has yet to win a Sun Belt Player of the Week honor, but that he could possibly be a candidate for the league’s Player of the Year.

Taggart said he thinks Rainey’s numbers give him a chance, but that he’s had a stellar year whether the award comes or not.

“You’d think he would with the numbers he’s putting up … but a lot of that has to do with the wins and losses,” he said. “Bobby’s put up some big numbers throughout the year against some pretty good football teams, but I think a lot of that has to do with the records. It doesn’t really matter though because we think he’s the player of the year. That’s all that matters.”

Rainey leads the nation in carries, showing a toughness that Taggart said surprised him. But as the Toppers continue to grow into Taggart’s offense, he said Rainey’s workload will decrease in his senior season.

“We’re not going to ask him to do it again,” Taggart said. “He got us going in the right direction. It was a great plan — great strategy — that worked to perfection, but Bobby will not have all those carries next year. We’ll be better in a lot of areas where he doesn’t have to have all those carries.”

Taggart’s carved out a bit of a reputation for being able to take running backs to the next level. Toby Gerhart was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy at Stanford last season under his tutelage, and Rainey is currently second in the nation in total rushing yards.

Taggart said that success should help in recruiting, convincing prospective backs that they’ll have a chance to do big things in his system.

“I think all running backs will be impressed, seeing what Toby did at Stanford and what Bobby’s doing here now,” he said. “That speaks for itself. We shouldn’t have a problem getting running backs in here. They all should be flocking to WKU if they want a chance to run the rock.”

Patterson agreed, but got a mischievous grin on his face while pointing out that running backs don’t get their numbers by themselves.

“It will help a lot if you always keep somebody around like Bobby Rainey,” he said. “He’s been one of the most exciting people I’ve had the chance to play with, so if they can keep bringing in players like him, they’ll be just fine.

“At the same time, you’ve got to bring in a good offensive line. It all starts up front.”

Youth movement

When Andrew Jackson played on special teams against Middle Tennessee last Saturday, he became the 25th freshman — either true or redshirt — to play for WKU this season.

That’s a significantly higher number of young players on the field than the Toppers have had in recent years, but Taggart said when he was hired that everyone would have a chance to take a job.

Several players on defense answered the call, including freshmen Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright, who staked claim to the starting cornerback positions three games in.

Many other freshmen have since moved into other starting or reserve roles, which Taggart said is because they bring a fresh change of pace.

“A lot of those guys haven’t been around through all that negative stuff, so it doesn’t affect them as much as the other guys,” he said. “They come in and play at a higher level, and they’re highly competitive because they haven’t lost anything. I think some of our other guys forgot how good they were, so they weren’t giving it their all.

“But these younger guys coming in with that mentality has helped our older guys.”

One veteran who’s thrived with the youth around him is senior linebacker Thomas Majors. Majors leads WKU with 94 tackles, which ranks him 56th in the nation.

Majors said the influx of newcomers has been a positive influence, as he’s seen it motivate some of the guys around him.

“These young guys have done a lot for the team,” Majors said. “Guys like TC Robinson, Xavius Boyd — a lot of these guys came in competing for starting positions on the defense. We feed off of it, and then other guys want to compete and get better.”