Behind the familiar green and white visor, there’s a man unsure of where he will stand in six months.
Behind every burst of excitement, every reassurance to those on the outside that his football program is on the right track — that it’s finally halted a seemingly endless downward spiral — there’s a man who knows he’s racing against a clock he cannot stop.
If teams were judged on fervor and determination, the beleaguered USF coach would find himself sitting on a green and gold throne as the King of Fowler Avenue.
At 38 years old, Taggart would likely be among the group of budding stars included in discussions to take over a Power Five program like Miami, Illinois or Iowa – all of which currently have coaches that could be fired at any moment.
But that’s not how the business of college football works. Coaches are expected to produce on the field, something Taggart’s teams at USF have scarcely done.
Taggart’s seat isn’t just hot right now, it’s on fire — and he knows it. Never was that been more obvious than during Wednesday night’s “Bulls on Parade” coaches’ tour stop in Tampa.
Before a capacity audience inside a Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant, Taggart took the microphone to introduce himself and address the fans. He explained to them that this is the most talented team he’s ever had.
“I’m excited about our football team,” Taggart boasted, “and everything that touches our football team right now.”
That’s all well and good. Typical coach-speak to get people — and more importantly, donors — hyped up. But what he said next was almost as incomprehensible as it was laughable.
While addressing his outlook for the season, Taggart said he wants to see all of the Bulls faithful smiling around Raymond James Stadium – especially when USF “is in a New Year’s Day bowl game.”
Did we all hop into a time machine and go back to 2007?
Does he mean that USF, a program that hasn’t come close to a bowl game in five years, is suddenly going to leap to the top of not just the American Athletic Conference, but the nation’s elite?
It’s a baseless notion that reeks of desperation.
In two seasons under Taggart, the Bulls’ have won only six games and none – not even against tiny Division I-AA Western Carolina – have come by more than eight points. That’s right, USF hasn’t won a game by double digits since it defeated I-AA Chattanooga 34-13 in the 2012 season opener. USF hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent by double digits since a 20-point victory at Syracuse in 2011 – then-coach Skip Holtz’s second season.
But now, everyone is supposed to believe that Taggart is sure that this group — which put up 20 points or fewer in 10 of its 11 games against FBS teams last season — can suddenly leapfrog everyone else and stake its claim as one of the best?
The only sure thing is that Taggart isn’t sure. Heck, he’s not even sure who’s going to be starting under center when the Bulls take the field for their opener against Florida A&M on Sept. 5. Furthermore, there’s that whole going on the road to Florida State, Maryland, Navy and Central Florida thing, too.
Feeling confident yet?
“If you can’t tell, I’m fired up … I can’t wait to impress youall,” Taggart told the Selmon’s crowd. “I can’t wait to see you all smile.”
If the coach wants to make fans smile, how about getting a play called on time without having to burn a timeout? Or, the team could retain an offensive coordinator for more than 12 games without suddenly stripping them of play-calling duties midway through the season without explanation.
Maybe take the magic from the recruiting trail during the offseason and sprinkle some of it on Saturdays.
For those unaware, Michigan coach — and Taggart’s friend — Jim Harbaugh stopped by campus on Saturday for a one-day camp for prospects to work with the USF and Wolverines coaching staffs.
It was nice marketing for the team. It was a great opportunity for high school stars to get a look at the school and the facilities. No one can really question the intentions of it since the Bulls aren’t playing Michigan in the foreseeable future, nor are they really recruiting the same caliber of athletes.
In a light-hearted group photo, Harbaugh even wore a green Bulls cap to show his support.
Hold on to that snapshot.
If Taggart’s Bulls don’t win a minimum of six games and earn a trip to any one of the 41 bowl games – much less one on New Year’s Day – Taggart can almost guarantee that he’ll be repaying the seemingly innocent gesture to Harbaugh by donning a Michigan hat next year – as one of Harbaugh’s assistants.
“Like I tell our guys, we can’t ask for anybody to say anything else, we’ve got to go out and change the perception of what people think of our football team … and that’s what we intend to do,” Taggart recently told the Tampa Bay Times about negative preseason predictions by some national media outlets. “Let them say what they want to say. Let’s go change it.”