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WKU: The House That Taggart Built

Former player, coach, and forever campus legend Willie Taggart built the foundation that the Conference USA favorite stands upon today.

WKU head coach Willie Taggart was doused with the Powerade bucket after WKU’s win over Kentucky.  WKU won over UK in overtime 32-31 at Commonwealth Stadium on Sep. 15, 2012.
WKU head coach Willie Taggart was doused with the Powerade bucket after WKU’s win over Kentucky. WKU won over UK in overtime 32-31 at Commonwealth Stadium on Sep. 15, 2012.
Jeff Brown

The year is 2010. Coming off an abysmal 0-12 inaugural season in Division I-A (now FBS) under sixth-year coach David Elson, Willie Taggart -- the running backs coach at Stanford at the time -- accepts the now-vacant head coaching position at his alma mater, Western Kentucky. Taggart was once the star quarterback and face of the program in the mid-90s and became one of only four Hilltoppers to have their jersey retired. After his graduation in 1998, he would stay as an assistant through 2006, winning a Division I-AA national championship (under his former head coach Jack Harbaugh) along the way. When Jack's son, Jim Harbaugh, accepted the head coaching position at Stanford following the '06 season, Taggart was brought on to coach running backs for the Cardinal. While at Stanford, Taggart developed star running back Toby Gerhart into a Heisman runner up and excellent NFL prospect.

Willie Taggart's inherited Hilltopper squad in 2010 had potential, partly due to David Elson's choice to (controversially) redshirt his talented freshman class in order to "build for the future," which may have eventually cost him his job. Taggart's 2010 team had a record of 2-10, which was a two-game improvement over 2009. However, the team's improvement would begin to skyrocket. In 2011, the Hilltoppers and their run-heavy offense surprised much of the Sun Belt Conference by posting a 7-5 record with Taggart and star running back Bobby Rainey, who exploded onto the scene. Despite their spectacular progression and season in which they won 7 of their last 8, they were not invited to a bowl game (much to the dismay of Willie Taggart). New star running back Antonio Andrews and Taggart's Hilltoppers would once again go 7-5 in 2012 and participate in their first bowl game as a member of the FBS against Central Michigan in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, where they would fall just short of a victory. Although he led the Hilltoppers to their first bowl game, Taggart would accept the head coaching position at South Florida just weeks before the game.

Fast forward past an odd, yet predictably short Petrino head coaching stint and we arrive at Jeff Brohm at the helm. His remarkable ability to turn quarterbacks into stars had never been questioned throughout his career, and he once again worked his magic with Willie Taggart recruit Brandon Doughty, who led the nation in passing while seemingly breaking school record after school record in 2014. The Hilltoppers went on to win their first bowl game as an FBS member, defeating Central Michigan (sound familiar?) in the 2014 Popeye's Bahamas Bowl.

So, what's the point here?

Davie, Florida native star quarterback Brandon Doughty was (surprisingly) granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA for a season-ending ACL tear he faced in 2011, and is now entering his (second) final season. Running back Leon Allen (also a Florida native), who last year set the Conference USA single-game rushing record, is also entering his final season. Familiar faces under Taggart such as Willie McNeal, Cameron Clemmons, and Cam Thomas all graduated last season. Can Brohm fill those gaps that he had the luxury of inheriting? He's certainly straying away from Western Kentucky's recent formula for success that meant recruiting in the Florida area: Brohm has gone on record saying that his staff is focused on recruiting locally; 75% of his 2015 recruiting class hail from either Kentucky or Tennessee. In related news, the Hilltoppers recently received their first commit of 2016, Anthony Robinson out of Frankfort, Kentucky.

Jeff Brohm's stance on focusing his recruiting efforts on Kentucky and the surrounding areas is bold, especially considering his success with a team made up of many out-of-state players. With Brohm no longer having the generous inheritance of Taggart's excellent recruiting ability in Florida, can he continue to thrive at Western Kentucky? Only time will tell, but any fan of great offense should be glad that we will get to see his star quarterback Brandon Doughty on the field for one last season on the Hill.