Continuing the conversation we started yesterday with Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken, we interviewed new South Florida head coach Willie Taggart to ask how this reclamation project differs from his previous post at Western Kentucky, his strategy in filling out his staff, and how he sells his program to recruits in a state with three behemoths just down the road.
1) How will you define success in Year One?
Just getting better. Teaching every day. I think that’s the key, constant improvement every single day. We’ve got to take it one day at a time and make that day better than the next day. Make one game better than the next game. I think if you break it down like that and you see improvement throughout and overall, to me that’s a sign of success.
2) At your introductory press conference in Tampa, you said you were going recruiting as soon as you stepped off the podium. How many high schools have you visited since then?
A lot. I’ve been to quite a few. I went to all of our committed guys when we got here, which was about 16, and then started going out to schools where we didn’t have guys. I would say, me personally, probably about 30-35 different schools in this short amount of time. I’m only allowed to go out for a certain amount of time. I know I went to every school here in Tampa.
3) How did you use your experience at Western Kentucky in filling out your staff at South Florida?
At Western Kentucky, we were limited because of the budget. It was hard to get the coaches that you really, really wanted. Here, our budget is a little better. For me, after going through it there at Western, you live and you learn. For me it was just getting a great chemistry, a great mixture of guys on this staff, older and younger, a little more experienced and some guys that are young and energetic. Those things were really important for me getting this job at South Florida. Just making sure it was the right fit. A lot of guys coach football but if you don’t have the chemistry amongst your staff it usually doesn’t work.
4) How did you handle letting your WKU assistants know that you weren’t taking them with you to Tampa?
To be honest with you, I didn’t let guys know that I wasn’t taking them, I didn’t let guys know that I was taking them. One thing I tried to do was let those guys focus on the bowl game and our kids there at Western, trying to win a game for them in their first bowl game. Then as they went through I started calling guys that I wasn’t going to take and tell them, ‘It’s not the right time. There’s a certain way I want to do it.’ I’ve got to do it the way I think is a fit for the University of South Florida and do it that way. It’s not always easy to take guys with you but you’ve got to do what’s best for the program, not necessarily for you as an individual.
5) Do you think your players have bought into your program so far?
I think they’re buying in. I think we’ve got some really good kids here and they’re hungry, they want to win and they’re starting to understand it’s not just going to happen. They can want all they want, but they’ve got to work. They’ve got to get out there and work to make it happen. No one is going to give them anything. That’s basically been our approach with the guys. We’re not going to give them anything. Everything they get now they’re going to earn it with the way they go out and work every single day. They understand that’s just the way it’s going to be around here.
6) How much time did you carve out in your first two months on the job to watch film and break down your current roster?
That was going on while we were recruiting, too. You’ve got a little down time on the road, you start watching a little bit of that. You got a lot more of it done once recruiting was over. We’ve been meeting constantly as a staff. Not only is it a new system, it’s a new staff. A lot of the guys weren’t together. It’s important we’ve got to get together as a staff first for us to get it to our guys. Once we got recruiting overwith, we had to go and re-recruit our guys that were here. Get to know them and see what they’re all about because we didn’t spend a lot of time with them when we were on the road recruiting, and half the coaches weren’t even here yet. It was great getting to be around those guys and getting to know them better and seeing what they’re about. We’re really excited to get out there in spring ball and seeing how it all transfers.
7) Everyone talks about how much a head coach has to deal with off-the-field stuff. How much of your job is spending time meeting fans, boosters, university personnel, etc.?
It’s nonstop, going and meeting alums, boosters and the University of South Florida supporters. There have been constant, constant, constant meetings.
8) How much is the Big East situation brought up in recruiting?
A lot of people try to use it against us. I don’t think it really hurt us as most teams thought it would. Some guys bought into it but I think once we got a lot of kids here on campus and they got around our staff and our players, that showed the Big East stuff didn’t matter. They looked at our young tradition here at South Florida. Within 15 years of football we had 70 guys go to the NFL. They know they can come here and get the same thing no matter where they’re at. People use it. The thing about it, no one knows anything. They use it but they don’t have any certainty. They just go off of hearsay and a lot of times that doesn’t hold up. I figure if they’ve got to use that then they’ve got bigger issues.
9) How did you handle hiring key off-the-field positions, such as your strength coach and director of football operations?
A lot of those guys that I did bring with me were guys from Western Kentucky, including my ops guy. It was important because he knows exactly how we do things. We do things a certain way and it’s great to have someone that understands those ways. It made it an easier transition for us, which is really important but it’s more important that you’ve got people that are willing to work hard and that are very organized because you’re dealing with so many people and you’ve got to make sure that everyone is going in the right direction. You can’t do that if you’re not organized.
10) With three giant programs inside state lines, how do you make South Florida stand out to recruits?
We’re a young program. Those teams have been around forever. We do it our way. I don’t know how they do it. We’re going to do it our way and then at the end of the day we’re going to be like them. We’re going to play those teams and beat them. I do think, with the resources we have and the recruiting base we have here, it can be that. We’ve just got to work to get there as a football team, as an athletic department and as a community. We work to get there. The signs are there that it can be done, we’ve just got to get back to working.
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