Willie Taggart has been named head football coach at Western Kentucky University, President Dr. Gary Ransdell and Director of Athletics Dr. Wood Selig announced today. Taggart, currently in his third season as running backs coach at Stanford, previously spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at WKU from 1999-2006 and served as co-offensive coordinator for WKU's 2002 I-AA National Championship team. A standout player at quarterback who set 11 school records for the Hilltoppers from 1995-98, Taggart is one of only four players in WKU's 91-year football history to have his jersey retired. He becomes WKU's 17th head football coach, but only the seventh since 1948.
"I have always followed Western Kentucky University, ever since I was in school here," said Taggart. "When I saw this opportunity, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. My wife and I sat around and talked about it and this is a dream come true. WKU is in my DNA. One thing about me, you don't have to retrain me in the community. I know where to go. I've always bled red since day one, and I know everything about WKU and I know what it takes to win here. I know what type of athlete we want, and I know what type of direction we want to go."
"We had a great group of candidates for this position, but at the end of the day when we really boiled it all down, there was no one who was a better fit," said Selig. "Willie had been a coach here for eight years before going to Stanford, and then you look at the resurgence at their program at the highest level in I-A football and we felt that Willie could bring that blueprint for success to WKU and help us reach similar accomplishments. Winning conference championships, going to bowl games and graduating student-athletes."
Taggart has been instrumental in the development of the Stanford offense and running game. The Cardinal, ranked as high as 14th in the nation by the Associated Press this season, currently have a 7-4 overall record with wins over nationally ranked Southern Cal and Oregon. Stanford leads the Pac 10 in total offense (436.5 ypg.) while ranking second in the conference and 13th in the nation in rushing offense (219.3 ypg.). With 2,412 rushing yards on the season, Stanford needs 70 team rushing yards against Notre Dame this Saturday to break the school's single-season rushing yardage mark that has stood since 1949 (2,481). The Cardinal are led by senior running back Toby Gerhart, who under Taggart's tutelage ranks third in the nation in rushing (139.2 ypg.). One of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, Gerhart carries a cumulative 3.25 grade point average as a management, science and technology major. He has already rushed for a Stanford single-season record 1,531 yards and 23 touchdowns in 11 games this season, breaking his own single-season rushing record of 1,136 yards set last season. The Cardinal's bowl appearance this season will mark the school's first since 2001.
Taggart was at the helm of the Cardinal running game that finished second in the Pac-10 Conference in rushing offense in 2008, averaging 199.6 yards a game on the ground. Stanford's season rushing total of 2,395 yards was the third-highest mark in school history. In addition, Taggart's work with Gerhart helped the junior rush for a then single-season school record of 1,136 yards, as Gerhart became just the fifth running back in school history to go over the 1,000-yard mark. Gerhart had one career start prior to the 2008 season. A tireless recruiter, Taggart was responsible for recruiting Florida, Georgia and Kentucky for the Cardinal along with Riverside County, California.
"I'm very excited for Willie, and also for Western Kentucky University," said Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. "The Harbaugh family has deep affection for the Hilltoppers. I'm just happy they got a great man, a great coach and a family man in Willie Taggart. I feel like the proud older brother. It's the same feeling I had when my older brother got the Baltimore Ravens head coaching job. It is not easily put into words, but I have great love and respect for Willie. At the same time, it's sad to see him leave here. [WKU] got the right man for the job. He's an outstanding football coach and teacher, and he is very enthusiastic and definitely loyal. Those are all great characteristics in a leader to lead WKU Football."
Prior to his arrival at Stanford, Taggart spent the previous eight seasons on the WKU coaching staff (1999-2006) and helped guide the Hilltoppers to eight consecutive winning campaigns during the stretch. He worked with current Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh in his first three seasons of coaching from 1999-2001. Taggart started his coaching career as WKU's wide receivers coach in 1999 before working with the quarterbacks from 2000-06. He was also the co-offensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002, helping lead the Hilltoppers to the Division I-AA national championship in 2002, and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2003.
Under Taggart's guidance from 2003-06, quarterback Justin Haddix set school career records with 8,890 yards of total offense, a 57.1 completion percentage, 50 touchdowns and a 137.28 pass efficiency rating. Haddix also finished his career ranked second all-time on the Hill with 541 completions and 7,929 yards passing.
Taggart helped coach an offensive unit that set school records for points (432), total yards (5,479) and first downs (263) en route to the 2002 NCAA Division I-AA national championship. The Hilltoppers ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency and sixth in rushing, and averaged 38.8 points per contest in four playoff victories.
In Taggart's first year calling plays in 2000, WKU ran for 293.4 yards per contest, leading the Gateway Football Conference and ranking second in the country in the category as WKU claimed the league title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the I-AA playoffs. In his first season in 1999, WKU ranked eighth in the nation and first in the conference in rushing.
Taggart's efforts helped WKU quarterbacks earn all-conference mention in three consecutive seasons - Jason Johnson (2000), Donte Pimpleton (2001) and Jason Michael (2002).
"This is a proud day for me and my family and this university family, to take one that we watched come in as a young, talented young man and grow into an adult and a man that is now prepared to lead this program, a proud program," said Ransdell. "I know we all share that love and affection for Willie and what he means to the young men that he is going to guide in the future."
Taggart also spent his collegiate playing days at WKU (1995-98) and was only the third WKU athlete in the past half-century to hold down the quarterback slot for the Hilltoppers for four straight years. Taggart - who set 11 WKU school records - had his jersey retired on October 23, 1999. He currently is WKU's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (47), ranks second in scoring (286 points), pass efficiency rating (127.71) and rushing yards (3,997), is tied for third in most 100-yard rushing games (17), and is tied for fourth in touchdown passes (30). His rushing yards were the most in NCAA Division I history at the time for a quarterback.
In each of his last two collegiate seasons, he was a finalist for the prestigious Walter Payton Award which is an honor given annually to the top offensive player in I-AA football. Taggart finished fourth in the balloting in 1997 and seventh as a senior the following year. An All-American as a senior, he was also the 1998 I-AA Independents' Offensive Player of the Year. Taggart was recruited to WKU by Jim Harbaugh to play for his father, Jack.
Taggart graduated from WKU with a bachelor's degree in social sciences in 1998.
As a prep standout at Manatee (Fla.) High School, he was a first team all-state and all-conference selection as a senior after guiding the Hurricanes to the state 5A Championship game. He led MHS to the state title his junior season and helped the school post a 26-4 record during that two-year span while recording more than 3,000 yards passing and 975 yards on the ground.
Taggart and his wife Taneshia have two children, Willie Jr. and Jackson.
The Taggart File
Full Name: Willie Taggart
Hometown: Palmetto, Florida
High School: Manatee
College: WKU, 1998 (B.A., Social Science)
Children: Willie, Jr.; Jackson
2007-09: Stanford (Running Backs)
1999-2006: WKU, Assistant Head Coach (2003-06), Quarterbacks (2000-06), Co-Offensive Coordinator (2001-02), Wide Receivers (1999).
1994-98: WKU - Quarterback