BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Willie Taggart inherited a Western Kentucky program in the midst of a 26-game losing streak. His rebuilding effort has paid off.
WKU and Taggart announced a new four-year contract on Wednesday that more than doubles the head coach's base salary to $475,000 after he led the Hilltoppers to a 7-5 record, the best mark in the school's three-year history in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"I am very humbled by this show of support, and I will earn every bit of it," Taggart said in a statement. "As I often say, 'WKU is in my DNA' and this is where I want to be. We had a very good season this year in many respects."
Taggart took over a program that was once an FCS powerhouse in disarray after its transition to FBS. The year before Taggart came from Stanford, Western Kentucky went 0-12 and lost by an average of 19.2 points per game.
Taggart's first squad started 0-6, but closed the gap each game before a victory at Louisiana-Lafayette and a 2-10 finish. After an 0-4 start this year, Western Kentucky finished 7-1. The turnaround from a 2-6 conference mark the year prior to 7-1 this season was the biggest since the conference began sponsoring football in 2001.
"While we made great strides this year in many areas, we still have work to do to continue this program's rise to achieving national respect," said Taggart, who played quarterback at WKU from 1994-98. "We need to perform better in non-conference games, and we need to fill Houchens-Smith Stadium on a consistent basis."
Taggart, who made $225,000 in base salary last year, will also have the opportunity to earn numerous bonuses in his new deal that runs until 2015 and includes one-year automatic rollovers until 2019.
If any of his teams win eight games in a season, he'll receive a 15 percent base salary increase. Subsequent eight-win seasons will result in a 5 percent base salary raise.
Taggart also can receive bonuses for winning a Sun Belt Conference title (one month's salary), reaching a BCS bowl (two months' salary), being named conference coach of the year ($10,000) or national coach of the year ($10,000) as well as incentives if the team's GPA is 3.0 or higher ($5,000 per semester) and season ticket sales surpass 10,000 a year ($10,000 per year).
WKU also is increasing the assistant coaches' salary pool by 20 percent and assistants will receive bonuses for a conference title or a BCS bowl appearance.
"This is a much deserved new contract for Coach Taggart, and we are pleased to demonstrate this level of commitment to him and the entire WKU football program," WKU athletics director Ross Bjork said. "Our second place finish in the Sun Belt Conference and 7-1 league record illustrates perfectly the significant impact Willie has had on our program since taking over just two seasons ago."
With Hugh Freeze leaving Arkansas State for Mississippi, Taggart had been in line to be among the lowest paid head coaches in the Sun Belt Conference. Now, he'll fall in the middle of the nine-team conference.
"This worthwhile and additional investment in our program is one we must make," Bjork said. "We knew all along this level of commitment is necessary to continue to succeed at the FBS level."