Willie Taggart Is a Home Run Hire for Oregon Football

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 7, 2016

Oregon head coach Willie Taggart
Oregon head coach Willie TaggartCliff McBride/Getty Images

Willie Taggart's 40-45 career record as a head coach doesn't exactly jump off the page. The absence of a conference title in seven seasons probably doesn't inspire confidence. The inability of Oregon—with Nike money to play with—to land a coaching superstar might seem like a letdown on the surface. 

Don't be fooled, though. Taggart, Oregon's new head coach, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy and later confirmed by the school, is a perfect fit for the new era of Duck football.

After promoting its last three head coaches from within and finding success in all three, the program made a critical hire as it searches for a new identity.

Mike Bellotti led the Ducks to Pac-10 titles in 2000 and 2001, Chip Kelly won three conference titles (2009-11) and earned a berth in the BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season and Mark Helfrich took the team to the national title game following the 2014 campaign.

But after a 4-8 debacle in 2016 and Helfrich's dismissal, Oregon needed to go in a new direction.

Brett McMurphy @Brett_McMurphy

Source: Willie Taggart, Bryan Harsin interview w/Oregon. Tony Dungy tells ESPN, Taggart “a good fit, has all elements Oregon is looking for"

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You couldn't create a coach in a video game with a more perfect resume for what Oregon is and what it needs. 

Taggart is a program-builder.

He inherited a disaster at his alma mater, Western Kentucky, in 2010. The Hilltoppers were fresh off a winless 2009 campaign—their first as a full-fledged member of the Sun Belt. After a two-game improvement in his first season at the helm, he posted back-to-back 7-5 marks, finished with a 7-1 conference record in 2011 and capped his three-year run with a berth in the Little Caesars Bowl in 2012.

Willie Taggart was 18-7 over the last two seasons at South Florida
Willie Taggart was 18-7 over the last two seasons at South FloridaJason Behnken/Getty Images

His four-year stretch at South Florida followed the same path.

Former head coach Skip Holtz had worn out his welcome in Tampa and left a program that ascended as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007 in a 3-9 mess.

Again, after a sluggish 2-10 start, Taggart went from four wins to eight wins to 10 wins and tied Temple for the American Athletic Conference East regular-season title.

That's exactly what Oregon needs after Helfrich went from the penthouse to the outhouse after that College Football Playoff Championship Game loss to Ohio State following the 2014 campaign.

Willie Taggart Season-By-Season Results as a Head Coach
YearSchoolOverall Rec.Conf. Rec.
2013South Florida2-102-6
2014South Florida4-83-5
2015South Florida8-56-2
2016South Florida10-27-1

Quarterback development, or lack thereof, was a big reason the program regressed under Helfrich. He went the FCS graduate transfer route for his last two primary starting signal-callers (Vernon Adams Jr. in 2015 and Dakota Prukop in 2016), only to see the offense struggle at times. 

Sure, part of that was due to Adams' finger injury that nagged him for the majority of the 2015 season. But Oregon had a chance to capitalize on the buzz created from Marcus Mariota's 2014 Heisman Trophy run and failed miserably.

Taggart has done the exact opposite.

Quinton Flowers was a stud for Taggart's Bulls in 2016, passing for 2,551 yards, rushing for 1,425, accounting for 37 touchdowns and leading an offense that finished fifth in the country with 7.29 yards per play.

Quietly, Oregon's Justin Herbert was solid after being thrown into the mix in the middle of the season as a true freshman (19 passing touchdowns, two rushing), and Taggart is the perfect coach to help him—and the program—become more consistent offensively.

Plus, the 40-year-old Taggart is young, energetic and willing to be creative with marketing—something that has to appeal to Oregon and Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Are there geographic concerns with Taggart?

On the surface, sure. He's known best for his time at Western Kentucky and South Florida. But he also spent time as Stanford's running backs coach from 2007 to 2009, and can hire a staff with local and regional ties to make sure Oregon stays on the top of the minds of high school players and coaches.

Oregon, because of the Nike brand and location in a state that doesn't produce FBS talent like California or Washington, tends to recruit from out of state quite a bit. Three players on its current roster—including the ultra-versatile Charles Nelson—hail from Florida. Five—including running back Taj Griffin—come from Georgia. Defensive back Arrion Springs is one of six from Texas, and 29 are from California.

If Taggart assembles a staff that has ties in these fertile recruiting grounds, that's all that matters.

Oregon got out of its comfort zone, hired an outsider and hit a home run in the process. 

Taggart will make Oregon a perennial contender for the Pac-12 title again.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats unless otherwise noted.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter and Facebook.

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