Q&A: USF coach Willie Taggart, Part I

USF coach Willie Taggart delivered an incredible first impression during his introductory news conference this past weekend, speaking with passion, enthusiasm and some pretty great one-liners, too. My favorite: Taggart said his job is to get everybody assigned to the right seats on the bus, then, "Let Coach T drive this bus."

I had a chance to catch up with Taggart after he was formally introduced and we covered so much ground, I split our interview into two parts. This one focuses on why he thinks he is the right man for the job, and how the Harbaugh family shaped his coaching philosophy.

Check back Wednesday for his thoughts on transforming USF into a physical football team, the recruiting area he wants to win and his timetable for bringing home a first Big East championship.

Why are you the best coach for this job?

WT: It’s simple. You don’t have to retrain me in the community. I know where to go. I don’t need a GPS, that’s for sure. I know the places to get the players, I know the coaches, and I know what it takes to win. It’s all in the details, the little things, what’ve got to do right, to be disciplined, and it will transfer to the football field.

When the job opened, were you immediately interested?

WT: Well, I knew that they would be interested in me, and I always said if South Florida ever called, I was going to be interested in them. It all depended on where I was at the time. It was like the perfect storm. Things went the right way and fell into my lap. They always say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and sure enough he did.

Everyone expects great things from USF, and every year, it has fallen short of expectations. So what do you think it’s going to take to be able to change that?

WT: We’ve got to go out and do it. We can’t talk about it. We’ve got to be about it. It’s about hard work and it starts now. It starts with us as coaches, going out and recruiting, getting the very best players that can come here and play. Once we get them here, we’ve got to develop them. We have to help those kids perfect their craft, and attacking every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. The great Ralph Emerson always said nothing great can happen without enthusiasm. We need that here. Teaching our kids to be competitors and be winners in everything they do, not just on the football field but in the classroom, socially. I told the guys if you see one of your teammates walking, I want you to walk better than him. Find a way to win, find a way to beat him. That’s what we’ve got to be about, winning every day in everything we do, and being highly competitive with it.

You mentioned enthusiasm and we saw plenty of that in your news conference. Have you always been that way?

WT: Yeah that’s me, and I think I got it even more when I got around Jim Harbaugh. That’s a big reason why we were so close, and why we’re so alike. It’s happening every single day and you expect it from your kids and your coaches. It’s going to be hard for you to be around me if you don’t have any enthusiasm. It’s hard. I don’t like being around boring people. I need some juice.

I hope your players know that already.

WT: They do. Trust me, they do.

You talked a lot about Jim and the Harbaugh family. How did your time spent at Stanford change you?

WT: Well, it changed me big-time, just the way of doing things. When I got out to Stanford, Jim ran the program like they do in the NFL. My time with him and how he ran that program was probably the biggest impact on me and my career and what I do now. Those kids hadn’t won a game, they were 1-11 and they had back-to-back-to-back losing seasons. They forgot how fun and forgot how good they were at football and Jim brought that back just by changing the mentality, changing the culture. We were going to be highly competitive and it started with him. Every single day he was competing, too. He was throwing the football, he was running around. Our kids bought into that.

You took a team that had lost 20 straight games, and you ended up going 7-5 in back-to-back seasons. What do you think is the biggest reason why you were able to turn around that program?

WT: Same things as Stanford, followed the same blueprint. We had to change the culture, the way we carried ourselves, the way we went about business. Before they weren’t doing things the right way on the field or off the field and all those things translate to losing. We had to change our mentality, the way we thought of ourselves. A lot of those guys didn’t care much about football anymore, when all of them when they came out of high school thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. We had to get those guys to get back to feeling that way.

Do you feel you have to change the culture at USF?

WT: Yeah, but I don’t think it’s going to be a lot. I think it’s totally different than what I inherited at WKU and what we inherited at Stanford. I think we’ve got some really good kids here, and they’re dying to win, too. The culture will change a little bit because it’s not going to be the same. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be the way Coach Taggart envisions it, and they’ve got to buy into it and I think they will.