I’m neither sold on Willie Taggart, nor sold on not being sold on him.
Since Willie Taggart was hired by Oregon, there’s been two main responses: Oregonians who proclaim him their savior and partisan Washingtonians who wouldn’t admit he’s good even if he won a national championship tomorrow. Then there’s the elusive third response: Ducks and Huskies who are both tentatively optimistic things will go their way.
The thing is that the pillar of rabid Washingtonians’ arguments about why Willie Taggart will be a bust is oddly similar to Oregonians’ (and anti-Pete Washingtonians’) arguments about Chris Petersen three years ago. “Oh, he can’t compete in the Power 5; he was just playing inferior competition.” Which, I mean, sure. But, just like Petersen’s Boise State teams, Taggart’s programs at Western Kentucky and South Florida were also handicapped by their non-AQ/Group of Five lack-of-prestige and resources.
Still, a quick look at Willie Taggart’s overall head coaching record would seem to corroborate this Husky fearlessness; after all, a sub-.500 winning percentage (40-45) is what Oregon’s trying to avoid. And yet I find myself being half sold on Willie Taggart and half sure Washington will continue trampling the Pacific Northwest with ease. Here’s why:
WHY I’M SCARED
1. Taggart can clearly turn programs around and you have to have the IQ of ground horseradish to not see that. If you’re a Washington or Oregon State fan, it shouldn’t make you feel better that Oregon was better than their record last year. Yes, they were still bad. They just weren’t quite that bad.
He took over a WKU program that had lost 26 straight games and turned them into a winning (7-5) team in two years. The following year — Taggart’s last — they stagnated at 7-5, but the foundations were set for their next coaching staff to compete for Conference USA championships. Similarly, South Florida was 3-9 when he was hired and, although they went 2-10 in his debut, they steadily climbed to 4-8, then 8-5, then 11-2.
2. Taggart’s recruiting like it’s going out of style. And for all the doogs who want to counter with “You can’t coach heart!” and “[Current Superstar Player X] was only a two-star walk-on,” fine. While that is true, no amount of coaching could turn most people into a championship-caliber team. Recruiting is a massive part of a team’s success and to deny that makes you a goober.
3. Jim Leavitt can make a defense go from sucky to less sucky to not sucky if you give him time.
4. Also, JUSTIN HERBERT IS GOOD WHY ARE WE NOT HYPING HIM UP WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.
WHY I’M NOT
1. The rest of the Pac-12 North is getting better as we speak, even Oregon State. So is the Pac-12 South, minus the Arizona schools. For Oregon to return to prominence, it’s not enough to get better. They have to get better-er, faster than the rest of their competition. While the Ducks certainly have the resources to do so, whether they can actually execute that potential is an unknown and gargantuan task.
2. Willie Taggart teams seem to max out at an upper-mid level. For example, the year after he gave WKU their first winning season in a billion years, they didn’t take that next step the year after despite that seeming natural.
It could be that Taggart is to Oregon what Sark was to Washington, just implemented before Oregon hit freefall like the Dawgs did in ’08: what that program needs at the moment to get kickstarted back to life.
3. When it comes to his job at USF, I’m not gonna be that person who whines about how it’s just been The Quinton Flowers Show that makes Taggart look good. However, I’m also not gonna deny that a dynamic talent like Flowers could elevate a team more than the coaching. Especially given that Taggart’s prowess is supposed to be on the offense, the magnitude of Flowers’ ground and air threat forces opposing defenses to concern themselves with space they otherwise wouldn’t worry over and gives all phases of that offense more room to work with. I’m not saying this is true. I’m not even saying this is all that probable. But it is something to consider.
4. Taggart’s offense may have been innovative-ish back east, but the West Coast has been adapting to stop that sort of scheme for, like, a decade now. Seeing his high-octane interior offensive line might be a change up, but otherwise, Pac-12 defenses are well-equipped to handle what the Gulf Coast Offense brings. And even if it were notably successful out west, it’s not like it’s Oregon’s offense that needs fixing anyway. They’re doing fine — Oregon was 27th in the country with 35.4 PPG last year — and still the team as a whole sucked.
5. Oregon’s locker room culture deteriorated under Mark Helfrich and it takes at least a couple seasons to change that. Just ask Chris Petersen.
And that’s why, as a Washingtonian, Willie Taggart and Oregon don’t worry me.
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