Willie Taggart has talked ad nauseam about wanting to create a “national identity” for his football program at Western Kentucky.
As that identity begins to take shape, thanks in part to the Hilltoppers’ recent success on the field, Taggart is developing an identity of his own. And as the year continues, the 36-year-old coach will undoubtedly become a popular candidate to leave the Hill for a more lucrative position.
But Taggart doesn’t want to talk about that.
“I don’t talk about any other job but the one that I have,” he said. “It’s simple.”
The Hilltoppers were 4-36 from Aug. 30, 2008, through Oct. 5, 2011. On Oct. 6, 2011, they beat Middle Tennessee 36-33 in overtime and have lost just two games since – at then-No. 1 LSU on Nov. 12 and at No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 8.
That works out to an 11-2 record over the team’s last 13 games – including eight straight Sun Belt Conference wins – and Taggart is 8-7 on the road as a head coach.
Taggart doesn’t see the possibility of other schools showing interest in him as a distraction for his team.
“Our players are in a cocoon right now,” he said. “Our players don’t hear anything right now and, again, there’s no one individual bigger than this team. Our guys understand that and we have big dreams and big goals this year and we’re not going to let anything distract us from that. Those things we consider ‘drag’ around here. We’re decreasing drag. We’re trying to do big things this year.”
Taggart’s current contract was reworked at the end of the 2011 season. It runs through the 2019 season and gives him a base salary of $475,000. The contract also states that Taggart can receive a 15 percent base salary increase should the Hilltoppers reach eight wins in any season and a 5 percent increase in base salary should WKU win eight or more in any subsequent season.
Incentives include a one-month salary bonus for Taggart and each assistant coach should WKU win a Sun Belt championship, a two-month salary bonus for Taggart and each assistant coach should WKU reach a Bowl Championship Series bowl game, a $10,000 bonus should Taggart be named conference coach of the year, a $10,000 bonus should Taggart be named national coach of the year, a $5,000 bonus each semester the team has a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher and a $10,000 bonus should the program’s season ticket sales reach 10,000 per year.
“We are very proud of coach Taggart and the program, and many firsts are achievable,” WKU athletic director Todd Stewart said in a text message to the Daily News. “Coach Taggart, his coaching staff and our players are to be commended for their outstanding start to our season. Their laser focus week in and week out has been a big reason for the success and we need to maintain this level of focus for each of our remaining seven regular season games.”
Taggart won’t call this week a bye week. Instead, it’s an “off” week for the team before traveling to face Troy on Oct. 11.
The third-year coach said the Tops – winners of three straight games – will work on technique, fundamentals and execution before going without a scheduled practice Thursday and Friday.
“We’re looking at ourselves as trying to be a better football team than we were last week,” Taggart said. “I mentioned before, great teams are never satisfied. Our guys aren’t satisfied yet. We want to go out there and see how good we can be, and we haven’t put that performance out there yet, but we’re doing some good things.”
Kawaun Jakes’ status uncertain
Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes left Saturday’s game against Arkansas State with what was reported as a left knee bruise. Redshirt freshman James Mauro led the Tops to a 26-13 victory in the second half.
Taggart said Jakes was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday and felt he’d be able to play against Troy. If not, Mauro will start in his place.