Taggart eager for first home game as WKU head coach

Head Coach Willie Taggart prepares to lead the Toppers out of the tunnel last Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Taggart enters this weekend’s home opener against Indaina, his first at WKU since he was an assistant coach from 1999-2006, with the Toppers holding an 0-2 record.

Zach Greenwell

It’s been four years since Head Coach Willie Taggart roamed the WKU sidelines on game day.

And when Indiana University rolls into town Saturday for WKU’s home opener, Taggart said he’ll feel at home for the first time in four years.

“It brings back a lot of memories, and it hasn’t even started yet,” Taggart said. “I can just imagine coming out and seeing the fans. That’s going to be surreal, and hopefully our guys are fired up the same way I am.”

The crowd at Houchens-Smith Stadium will be much larger than when Taggart was starring as an All-American quarterback for WKU from 1995-98 or when he was an assistant coach from 1999-2006.

Taggart said he likes to think he and his teammates played a role in the expansion of the program, and that makes the anticipation of his long-awaited return even stronger.

“It’s going to be special,” Taggart said. “When I got the job, one thing I said I wanted to do was get our fans more into the program and sell this place out. That’s important to me, and it’s going to be important to see how the fans respond that first game. I know we’ve got to do our part to keep it that way, but I’m excited to see that.”

Taggart hasn’t done a very good job of hiding his excitement this week. In fact, senior linebacker Chris Bullard said one look at the coach will tell you all you need to know.

“It’s going to be insane,” Bullard said. “Obviously he’s helped build Western, and coming back for his first home game, I think he’s going to be more excited than us, to tell you the truth. We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s going to be a show.”

Taggart said earlier this week that if there’s anything he wants as much as a win over Indiana this weekend, it’s a stadium sellout.

He said he was inspired by the crowd he saw in the season opener at Nebraska, where Husker fans have set a record with more than 300 consecutive sellouts.

But Taggart said he knows WKU isn’t Nebraska — at least not yet.

“We have to keep our fans on our side and give them something to believe in,” he said. “We owe that to them. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves to get better. We don’t want to lose at home. We want to give our fans that. We want to take care of our home stadium.”

The Toppers didn’t give fans much to believe in through their first two games, as they were outscored 112-38 in losses at Nebraska and Kentucky.

But junior defensive end Jared Clendenin said it’s hard not to see a clean slate, playing at home for the first time with a new, energetic coach.

“It feels like another opener in a way,” Clendenin said.

After playing schools from the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference to start the year, Indiana will be the first Big Ten school to ever visit WKU. It’s a steep challenge for a coach’s first home game, but Taggart said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s big-time now,” he said. “Before we were the small guys, but now it’s big-time. We all need to be big-time — our students and everyone. We need to make it where teams are intimidated when they come in here. That’s when you really know you’ve got something going on — when teams are intimidated.

“In order for us to get our program where we want to go, we’re going to have to have our community behind us. Yes, we’ve got to win ballgames, but we’re going to have to have them behind us whether we win or we lose. It’s our team.”