A long way home
To the teams at Western Kentucky and Stanford, and soon USF, hes Coach Taggart or Coach T.
But to his nieces and nephews, who live in Florida and attended Saturdays press conference announcing USFs new football coach, Willie Taggart is just Uncle Man.
When he was a baby, he never cried, his mother, Gloria James, who lives in Palmetto, said. “He didnt do nothing like that, and I just started calling him Little Man because he acted like a man. And then he started walking, and he still didnt ever do nothing wrong. So when he got bigger, I called him Man. Now hes Uncle Man.
Now Taggart, whose mother said was filled with the qualities of a good coach from the time he was a baby when he was first born, will soon be able to visit with his Florida-based family more often after accepting the position of head coach at USF.
After leading his Bradenton Manatee High School football team to a national championship in 1992, the star quarterback was heavily vetted after he graduated in 1994. But since he left to play quarterback for Western Kentucky in 1994, hes spent much time away from home.
After he graduated from college, Taggart immediately began his coaching career, accepting a job at Western Kentucky as offensive coordinator. In 2006, he moved to Palo Alto, where he served as running backs coach for Stanford until he returned to Western Kentucky as head coach in 2010.
During that time, hes only been able to see his parents once or twice a year, he told a packed audience Saturday as his eyes welled. His parents sat in the front row, their faces gleaming with pride.
Now Im home, Taggart said. And I can see them whenever I want to.
Taggarts wife and three children were not present at Saturdays conference, but he said USF would soon be seeing lots of them. Though he said they were a little confused because of the speed at which things happened, they are looking forward to being close to family.
Taggarts mother said she was excited.
I cant tell you, Im so proud, she said. I thought he would go somewhere, but I didnt ever think it would be here.
Shes also preparing to cook more meals for her son. Her speciality is soul food, though Taggarts favorites are lima beans and sweet potato pies, she said.
At times, she said, she traveled to Kentucky to cook for the whole team.
Its something she wanted to do.
Since he was a kid, James said her son, who met with the USF team Saturday, has been a father figure, always more mature than his age, never causing trouble.
All the guys would follow him, she said. Id come into the house and it would be so quiet. But thered be about 17 boys in there playing football games all day long. The only time theyd take a break was to go eat. I never had no trouble or nothing with him. I dont even think he was ever in a fight.
Former NFL coach and local philanthropist Tony Dungy, who became involved in the search process, told local media Saturday he saw some of the same characteristics in the 36-year-old coach now.
He reminds me a lot of myself at that age, he said. Not a lot of flash. Not a lotof glitter.
But while Dungy said he was happy to see Taggart return to the area, his mother said the family was ecstatic.
It was a madhouse, she said. Everyone was like Get a paper, get a paper! Look at the news!
Shes happiest though, she said, to know that all her kids will be with her this Christmas.