Going Around the Horns

USF coaches Jose Fernandez (left), Orlando Antigua (center) and Willie Taggart
took questions from fans at USF Sarasota-Manatee on Tuesday. 

In front of more than 100 fans, USF football coach Willie Taggart described his competitive nature at the forefront of the future of USF Athletics, part of a regional tour that made its stop in Sarasota on Tuesday.

“I hate losing,” Taggart said. “If you watch me walk in the hallway, I’m trying to walk better than you.”

As part of USF Athletics’ Around the Horns regional tour, Tuesday’s presentation included an open forum moderated by ABC 7 sports anchor Don Brennan.  Earlier this month, the tour kicked off to connect USF Athletics with the community and gain support for the teams and new coaches with stops in Lakeland, St. Petersburg and Orlando.

One of the biggest questions for Taggart was who will be under center for the 2014 Bulls. 

“Right now they’re competing,” Taggart said. “I feel like we have two quarterbacks that we can win with. We’re going to let it go through training camp for at least the first two weeks and then we’ll name a starting quarterback and roll with it from there.” 

For the majority of his time, Taggart spoke of the progress the football team has made and how the fans will be able to see the difference this season. 

Part of this change involved the players gaining muscle in the offseason. Taggart said when he walked into the locker room for the first time last year he was unimpressed with the physique of his players. 

“When you have me benching more than some guys, then we’ve got issues,” Taggart said. “Player development was not where it needed to be.”

But Taggart insists players have gotten stronger and now look the part of a Division I football team. Specifically, he said the offensive line has seen the most improvement, with their average weight increasing from 297 to 310 lbs. 

Another reason Taggart believes his team will be better this season is the focus he is enforcing on the players’ social and academic lives. 

“Before, our guys wanted to have too much fun, but there’s no fun in losing,” Taggart said. “That’s doing something that they weren’t brought here to do. They realized they have to focus on football.”

While Taggart was gearing up fans for noticeable improvement this season, new men’s basketball coach Orlando Antigua didn’t make any promises, at least not immediately. 

“I ask that you be patient with us,” Antigua said. “It’s going to be challenging, but we’re up for the challenge and excited for the opportunities ahead.”

Antigua is retaining only six players from the 15-man roster last season. With new players and a new coaching staff, Antigua said there will be an adjustment period. 

“Whenever you’re taking over a program and trying to change a culture or a mentality, that takes time,” Antigua said. “How long, I don’t know.”

Though he preached patience during his speech, Antigua isn’t worried about living up to fans’ lofty expectations of him as a coach. 

“Fans are going to have their own perceptions and expectations of the program and that’s good, that’s why they’re fans,” Antigua said. “We have our own expectations as a staff and I don’t think the fans’ expectations are going to be any greater than what we have for (our players).”

Both Antigua and Taggart spoke highly of the future of their respective teams, but women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez focused on the key to making the NCAA Tournament this season rather than the NIT Tournament as his squad did last season.

“We have a very exciting non-conference schedule this season,” Fernandez said. “We’re playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. We will play eight teams in the top 50.”

His team nearly made the NCAA Tournament with a 23-13 record last season. By playing such a tough schedule, he is ensuring that his team’s RPI won’t be brought into the equation come tournament time. 

The coaches said they enjoy events such as these where they can meet the fans and speak of their visions for USF Athletics. But for a new coach such as Antigua, it was especially exciting to reach out to the fans. 

“For someone fairly new, it’s great to connect with the folks that support you in the community,” Antigua said. “It’s great to see the span of support throughout the state.”

The Around the Horns Tour will conclude Friday in Miami when Athletic Director Mark Harlan, Taggart and Antigua will try to gather support in South Florida.