USF has now hired two straight coaches who have had success elsewhere and struggled in Tampa. Why?
Let's start here: One of the biggest misconceptions I see among the Bulls' fanbase is a black-and-white evaluation of coaches as either Good Coach or Bad Coach, with no middle ground. Take Skip Holtz: he's been successful in two of the three FBS jobs he's had, and put together one of USF's best all-time teams in 2011 that was remarkably snakebitten. He also couldn't recruit at a high level, among other failings, and the program collapsed within a few years.
I'm not trying to convince you that Skip Holtz is a good coach. Far from it. The point is, coaches come in all different shades of Good at Some Things and Bad at Others, and it's the Athletic Director's job to figure out which coach has strengths that match up best with the program's (which once again calls into question the decision-making of a certain former AD, but that's neither here nor there). To wit: at many schools, the ability to recruit well trumps the ability to coach well in-game. Willie Taggart certainly fits this mold, but after having unprecedented success at Western Kentucky on the strength of his recruiting ability, he has yet to hit any sort of stride at USF.
We examined reasons why this might be once before, attempting to analyze beyond the Good Coach/Bad Coach dichotomy. Today, we enlist the help of a man who's been on the WKU beat for years, WBKO-TV reporter Chad Bishop, to talk about Taggart's time at WKU and whether or not he displayed the same coaching weaknesses that he has at USF. Thanks again to Chad for his time-- give him a follow on Twitter @MrChadBishop, if you aren't already. I also provided a few annotations below, in italics.
1. How was Taggart at developing a quarterback at WKU? This has probably been his Achilles heel at USF so far. To top things off, he's had a ridiculously quick hook that hasn't allowed anyone to build any sort of confidence. Any of this ring a bell?
CB: No, actually. Taggart was pretty stubborn in his decision to stick with Kawaun Jakes. When he finally did bench Jakes for Brandon Doughty (the current starter at WKU), Doughty tore his ACL after three plays and Jakes was implanted back into the starting lineup. The Tops lost that game, but then won seven of their final eight with Jakes as the starter. In 2012, Jakes threw for nearly 2,500 yards and had 22 touchdowns passes and WKU went 7-6. He molded Jakes into a game-managing QB who ran Taggart's offense crisply and effectively.
Kawaun Jakes was a four-year starter at QB who took over in 2009 and started all three years of the Taggart era at WKU. If you ever watched WKU back then, you know that he was not a model of consistent quarterbacking, but it appears that Taggart stuck with him, and Jakes rewarded that trust. Here's his progression from 2010-2012:
2010: 51.2% for 1,680 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INTs (2-10)
2011: 55.4% for 1,584 yards, 10 TDs, 12 INTs (7-5)
2012: 64.1% for 2,488 yards, 22 TDs, 11 INTs (7-6)
2. What was his m.o. as a recruiter, particularly along the offensive line? He hasn't been able to find the kind of OL talent that he needs to run his offense in Florida thus far. Did he look predominantly in state? Florida?
CB: Taggart was – and still is – a great recruiter. When it comes to the offensive line, though, I don't think he valued it as highly as skill positions or defensive personnel – but he had a pretty good unit already in place when he arrived.He signed Forrest Lamp (Venice, Fla.), who is the current team's starting left tackle, and signed Darrell Williams (Dublin, Ga.) who will start on the right side this season. Most of the other signees (from really anywhere in the Southeast and junior college level) didn't pan out. Cam Clemmons (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) was recruited by the former staff, but was signed by Taggart, and he became a an all-conference performer.
We've talked at length about Taggart's tremendous recruiting yet failure to bring in the players he needs for his system (see the link above), so I wanted to dig into this a little further. Has he been bringing in significantly-higher rated skill position players than offensive linemen? Check it out (ratings from 247sports' composite):
Skill Positions: 15 players, avg. 83.9
Offensive Line: 8 players, avg. 82.9
So... a little bit, but it's not significant. Make of that what you will. Perhaps we've yet to see the talented youngsters displace the veterans on the line.
3. How was he as an in-game coach? He hasn't been flagrantly bad here, but he tends to play extremely conservative, which is not a great strategy for a team that's frequently outmatched.
CB: Taggart's in-game coaching style reminds me of an option team, or a halfcourt, low-scoring team in basketball. If you fall into the trap of playing his style, you've got no shot. All it takes is a couple touchdowns from Taggart's offense and a few three-and-outs from Taggart's defense and he's got you right where he wants you. Some folks find that boring, but I think there's a subtle beauty in running down the clock with a methodical offense that eventually drives the opponent insane and forces them to be something they're not. I will say that Taggart believes strongly in his system and style, but when it's not executed correctly, it can look awfully ugly.
4. Taggart frequently mentions his offense takes a while to master. About how long into his tenure did you see the WKU offense start to pick up on his schemes? Did he ever tweak the offense or change schemes at all?
CB: It really didn't click until Oct. 1, 2011 in his 16th game at WKU – a 26-22 loss at home to Arkansas State. That was the Hilltoppers' only Sun Belt Conference defeat that season. From there his offense found its true identity with the aforementioned methodical style predicated on shifts and motions and a physical run game with a hint of play-action. His only "tweaks" were expanding the playbook and trusting Jakes on more challenging throws against tougher defenses.
I'll say this for USF fans in despair that another long season is ahead – once Taggart finds his quarterback, everything else will fall into place. If he can find someone who grasps his offense, and someone he can trust to execute his playbook, the Bulls will be alright.