Former Hilltopper All-America quarterback Willie Taggart enters his third year as the head coach of his alma mater in 2012.
After guiding the Hilltoppers to two wins in his first season, Taggart saw his squad start 0-4 in 2011. However, WKU was able to orchestrate a remarkable turnaround, winning seven of its last eight games. The only loss in that stretch came to #1 LSU in Baton Rouge. The Hilltoppers finished 7-1 in Sun Belt Conference games to finish second in the league race. The only loss in the league was a four-point setback to eventual league champion Arkansas State.
The five-win difference in Sun Belt Conference play represents the biggest one-season turnaround in league history. Only two teams in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision - Houston and Arkansas State - experienced bigger turnarounds in terms of overall wins from 2010 to 2011.
In just two seasons, Taggart has seen three different student-athletes named to All-America team, including running back Bobby Rainey who was selected to five different teams in 2011, and six total over his final two years in uniform. Rainey also earned back-to-back Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player-of-the-Year awards, and was one of 13 all-Sun Belt selections under Taggart's guidance.
Taggart was named head football coach at WKU on November 23, 2009. In his first season as head coach, he helped lead WKU to road wins at Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State and running back Bobby Rainey was named Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year after ranking third in the nation in rushing (137.4 yards per game/1,649 total rushing yards). Rainey also led the nation in rushing attempts (340) and was named Honorable Mention All-American by SI.com, while Willie McNeal was named Freshman All-American as a kickoff returner. Each of Taggart's first two recruiting classes has been named No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference by Rivals.com.
Before joining the Hilltoppers, Taggart served as running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-09. He 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 92-year football history to have his jersey retired. He became WKU's 17th head football coach, but only the seventh since 1948.
Taggart, who joined the Stanford coaching staff following a 1-11 season in 2006, was instrumental in the development of the Cardinal offense and running game. Stanford, ranked as high as 14th in the nation by the Associated Press in 2009, posted an 8-4 regular season record with wins over nationally ranked Southern Cal and Oregon. Stanford led the Pac 10 in total offense (441.4 ypg.) while ranking second in the conference and 11th in the nation in rushing offense (224.3 ypg.). Stanford's 2,692 rushing yards in 2009 broke the school's single-season rushing yardage mark that has stood since 1949 (2,481).
The Cardinal were led by senior running back Toby Gerhart, who under Taggart's tutelage ranked second in the nation in rushing (144.7 ypg.) and earned the Doak Walker Award given to the nation's top running back. Gerhart carried a cumulative 3.25 grade point average as a management, science and technology major. He also rushed for a Stanford single-season record 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns in 12 games in 2009, breaking his own single-season rushing record of 1,136 yards set in 2008, and was one of only five players invited to New York City for the 2009 Heisman Trophy Award presentation. He finished second in the final balloting in the closest race in the award's 75-year history. Gerhart, who was also named the Pac 10 Offensive Player of the Year, was one of only two Pac 10 players named to the first team on both the All-Pac-10 Team and the Pac-10 All-Academic Football Team. The Cardinal's Sun Bowl appearance in 2009 marked the school's first bowl game 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.
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).
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
Born: August 27, 1976
Hometown: Palmetto, Florida
College: WKU, 1998
Children: Willie, Jr.; Jackson
1999: WKU (Wide Receivers)
2000: WKU (Quarterbacks)
2001-02: WKU (Co-Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks)
2003-06: WKU (Assistant Head Coach / Quarterbacks)
2007-09: Stanford (Running Backs)
2010-present: WKU (Head Coach)
1994-98: WKU (Quarterback)