Last night, SB Nation's Steven Godfrey reported that Western Kentucky head coach Willie Taggart interviewed for the head coaching job at Wisconsin. Since he's obviously a top candidate for the job, Andrew wrote a profile of Taggart for the site earlier, and we're following up with a Q&A just like we did last night for Paul Chryst.
Answering our questions about Taggart is none other than the aforementioned Mr. Godfrey, who spent a few days with WKU ahead of its game against Alabama early in the season, making him as qualified as any other blogger or journalist to give us some insight on a man who's obviously caught Barry Alvarez's eye.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: First, the very basics. Who is Willie Taggart? Where did he come from, and what's he done as WKU coach?
Steven Godfrey: Taggart comes from a magical place called "Florida" (which is why he's a hot name for the open USF gig) by way of Bowling Green. He holds most of the school's offensive records as an option QB under Jack Harbaugh when the Hilltoppers were a I-AA powerhouse in the early 90s. His number is retired at WKU, and he's as close as they've got to a patron saint of football a basketball-centric region.
As coach of WKU, he turned the Toppers bowl eligible in his second year in the program and actually landed WKU in a bowl this season (the Sun Belt tie-ins routinely leave eligible schools at home). This is quite the feat, considering he had to overhaul WKU, then a FBS newborn and conference doormat, from a spread option offense to a power run outfit. Fullbacks don't grow on trees, y'all.
B5Q: Follow up that only has a little bit to do with football: Who is Willie Taggart, the person?
SG: He's one of the youngest head coaches in the FBS, and being not so far removed from his own playing days, he's incredibly relatable for his players. His is an earned respect from his roster. He rarely yells, but when he does, it's incredibly effective. Players told me that they feel the same gameday energy they have in Taggart, and during a special last minute team meeting before Bama, it was evident.
During the 8 days I spent with Taggart and his staff, he maintained an effortless appearance (even behind closed doors) despite working nonstop to prepare for Alabama. He's genrally soft spoken and doesn't take himself too serious (a rare character trait for a head coach these days), and he's got a good sense of humor.
B5Q: How would you describe WKU's offense?
SG: If you're looking for an idea of what he might run in Madison, just watch the Rose Bowl. Taggart is a disciple of the modern Harbaugh coaching tree, having worked as an assistant on Jim's staff at Stanford. Power run, play action passing and a ton of shifts and motions at the line. The H-backs and tight ends are just as informed as the QB, and in the case of Jack Doyle, WKU's amazing senior TE, perhaps moreso. Bobby Rainey, currently Ray Rice's backup for the Ravens, came out of Taggart's system at WKU.
As of 2012, WKU was the only team in the Sun Belt not using a spread or some variation. Taggart strongly believes that these days you don't have to run a hurry-up, pass-centric offense to compensate for talent, mainly because the pendulum of recruiting has swung so far in the direction of the spread option that even a Sun Belt school like WKU could land raw h-backs, fullbacks, and run blocking tight ends and then coach them up in a four year system.
Given the long and storied history of Wisconsin and offensive line play, this is a system that could flourish when you put a Big 10 brand behind it in recruiting. The only failings I saw this season (I've watched five games now) were talent-based. You can only recruit to a certain level at WKU. But even with that in mind, Taggart's mindful enough to modify his system to what his players can handle.
B5Q: Have you heard about him getting looks from big AQ schools? Who?
SG: USF, and there was talk that if UCF opened, he'd be looked at there. It's thought that he could've had the Kentucky job if he wanted it. He was mentioned with Arkansas and Tennessee, but both schools wanted a larger name.
How is Taggart as a recruiter? Does he have connections in good places? Does he open up a pipeline that UW doesn't have?
Florida, namely. He also carries the Harbaugh name almost literally. Jack thinks of him like a son, and he speaks with Jim almost weekly. That coaching tree is at a gold standard these days.
B5Q: Do you think he'd be a good hire for UW?
SG: Absolutely. It would be a bold move that wouldn't garner much initial enthusiasm from casual fans, and he's probably not as polished right now for a marquee Big 10 job, but press conferences don't win games. If you want to sell it simply, I'd say that in Taggart you're getting a young, African-American Harbaugh that can recruit with energy and honesty. In Wisconsin, he'd be getting a program that already suits a lot of what he likes to do on offense with a talent pool that's better than any he's ever had.
I feel much better about the possibility of hiring Taggart than I did before getting some insight from Steven.