Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart is no stranger to rebuilding.
As an assistant at Stanford for the past three seasons, Taggart, the running backs coach, helped turn Stanford from a Pac-10 bottom-feeder to a bowl team with the Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart.
But rebuilding his alma mater is a task Taggart is really taking personally. It has become a mission for Taggart because he knows how great the Hilltoppers can be.
During his playing career in the 1990s and the eight years he served as an assistant coach at WKU, Taggart saw winning seasons and a I-AA national championship in 2002. As a quarterback for the Hilltoppers, he was the top rushing quarterback in Division I-AA history with 3,997 total yards and was twice a finalist for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, which is given to I-AA’s top offensive player.
As an assistant from 1999-2006, Taggart never knew a losing season.
That’s why the last two seasons, in which the Hilltoppers have combined for a 2-22 record, have been tough for Taggart to watch.
“I know you can win here, I’ve seen it,” Taggart said. “That’s the thing we’ve got to do around here, get these kids to believe again. They have to believe that they can get it done and then get them to compete and just work hard.”
Taggart’s first goal was to hire like-minded coaches that had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He’s a big believer that players are a reflection of their coaches and if the coaches have positive outlooks, it’s easier for the players to buy in.
Then he started training differently, teaching differently and changing the way each player thought about his position and his game. The Hilltoppers are working harder that they’ve worked in some time in preparation for spring football, which begins March 23.
Taggart said some players have defected and that he knows he’ll lose more before the start of the 2010 season. But he’s confident in his recruiting and he’s pleased with the players that already have shown the commitment to the new regime. He said players have told him they welcome the change and the opportunity to snap a 20-game losing streak, the longest in the FBS.
“You’d think these guys would be open because whatever they did last year didn’t work,” Taggart said. “For me personally, they’ve got to be open to it or they won’t be a part of this program. Either you’re in or you’re out. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. That’s the mentality I have around here. And these guys are buying in, the ones that want to be here. They’re here and they’re the guys we’re going to win with.”