It’s amazing how this silly little thing we like to call college football has a way of playing itself out.
Eight weeks ago, as USF set its sights on Syracuse — arguably the program’s most important opponent in many years at the time — coach Willie Taggart stood before about a half-dozen reporters and did his best to dodge the giant elephant in the room:
His job security.
With the team sitting at 1-3 off a head-scratching defeat to Memphis in which Taggart’s too-conservative play-calling led to another blown game in the second half, you could almost hear the fat lady warming up her pipes backstage.
Is there a heightened sense of urgency?
Are you feeling the pressure?
How badly does this team need a victory over a Power Five opponent?
Taggart fidgeted behind the microphone, tapping his fingers impatiently along the podium’s wood frame. It was obvious he wanted to be anywhere else.
These were overwrought times — probably the tensest of Taggart’s coaching career. Another loss at the hands of the Orange — on Homecoming, no less — would likely have earned the third-year coach a pink slip the following Monday.
Then, something happened.
Call it what you want — a miracle, divine intervention or simply a darn-good football team finally breaking out of its shell and turning a corner. But things began to come together when the Bulls took the field that afternoon on Oct. 10.
It started with a reverse flea-flicker for a touchdown in the third quarter and snowballed into a 7-1 record down the stretch and a coveted bowl berth.
Suddenly, the man at the mercy of a three-hour grudge match to determine whether he was riding home with the team or booking a one-way flight out of town, evolved into a beloved figure people just can’t get enough of.
He has done his part in turning around the program. Now, it’s time for athletic director Mark Harlan to do the right thing.
It’s time to lock Willie Taggart up with a long-term contract.
Oh, yes, USF has been down this road before with coaches. One of the most notable flubs that will forever remain a black eye on USF football was Doug Woolard’s embarrassing decision to give Skip Holtz a three-year extension after the Bulls flopped from a 4-0 start to 5-7 down the stretch.
Holtz has been gone for three years. USF will still be paying the remainder of that contract for another two.
These situations should not be compared.
Taggart is nine times the coach Holtz ever has been and ever will be. Holtz ruined this program with poor recruiting, poor management and poor decision-making in general, leaving it a smoldering dumpster fire when he was rightly dismissed after a three-win disaster in 2012.
Taggart took the ashes left behind and molded them back into a winner. He deserves to be rewarded for it.
No one could have predicted what transpired this season — not even Taggart. It was arguably one of the greatest mid-season turnarounds in the history of football itself and the best story to come out of the season.
But without giving Taggart a new contract and a ballpoint pen to sign on the dotted line, it is easy to predict what will happen: Taggart will be swept up by another team.
Can you imagine seeing Taggart walking the sidelines in colors other than green and gold? How about raising bowl trophies and banners in another city — another state?
That will be the reality of the situation.
Taggart is building something special around here — something more than a one-year wonder. He needs security to see it through.
The most promising part about it is the fact his fingerprints are everywhere.
Just take a gander at the players making huge impacts on both sides of the ball, if you don’t believe it.
Who are they?
There’s quarterback Quinton Flowers — a prized Taggart recruit and one of the best to play the position around here.
How about 1,000-yard tailback Marlon Mack, or USF’s single-season touchdown leader in receiver Rodney Adams? Take a glance at the secondary and see the fresh faces of Nate Godwin, Devin Abraham and Deatrick Nichols. Those are all Taggart guys.
It’s time for Harlan to get on the bus himself and show he’s a Taggart guy, too.
If he’s not careful, it just might drive away.