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April 5, 2011

Taggart Sets Bar High

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After being hired to come back and revive the WKU Football program, coach Willie Taggart made one thing clear: the standard to which everyone would be held would be raised. His main goal was clear, to win games and have the Hilltopper nation excited about WKU football again.

At his first press conference at the time of hire, he spoke of his appreciation to be back coaching at his alma-mater and the place where he won a national championship as an assistant coach.

"I have always followed Western Kentucky University, ever since I was in school here", Taggart said. "When I saw this opportunity, I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. My wife and I sat around and talked about it and this is a dream come true. Western Kentucky University is in my DNA."

At his next press conference for national signing day, he introduced the idea of Chasing Greatness and made it clear that "Chasing Greatness" would be the foundation on which he rebuilt WKU Football.

"We're chasing greatness and now we're starting to catch a little excellence in the process", he said.

At his third media gathering at the AOC Courthouse in Frankfort, alongside Joker Phillips and Charlie Strong, he made it clear to all of Kentucky and national media alike that his purpose and expectations would be to Chase Greatness and that he would not lower the standards.

"We want everyone to chase greatness from our coaches to our players, from our team manager to our fans," Taggart said.

Taggart didn't back down from those sentiments at all when asked about his expectations for the 2010 season.

"Our goal is to win the Sun Belt Conference", Taggart said. And if at any moment you thought that was just "Coach talk", he reiterated it enough to defuse any doubts. If you take a second to look back at the 2010 season, WKU fared well against each of the three bowl teams from the Sun Belt Conference. The Toppers lost 28-21 on the road at FIU on which a last second touchdown pass to tie the game was dropped in the end zone. They led Middle Tennessee 26-13 in the 4th quarter in which a fumble at the one-yard line denied WKU from taking a 33-14 lead; this resulted in an improbable 27-26 defeat. Lastly, they were tied with Troy 14-14 at the half before losing 28-14.

Add to that fourth quarter leads against Louisiana Monroe (24-7) and FAU (16-14) that both resulted in heartbreaking loses.

So it's not as if the Toppers weren't competitive in 2010, they just needed a couple breaks to have ended the season at .500 which would have made them bowl eligible.

But don't let Taggart hear you talk about how close they were to winning those games.

"We may have been close, but we did not win the games," Taggart said. "Our goal is to win those games."

The WKU Football program has continued to make strides under Taggart's leadership. Under Taggart, the Toppers won their first two FBS games. They have earned back to back top Recruiting classes from Rivals.com, a feat which had never been accomplished at WKU until Taggart's arrival. Attendance numbers were up from 2009 and the Toppers appeared in six nationally televised games for the first time in school history.

Even with all of that, Taggart is raising the stakes for 2011. His first request? 15,000 Hilltopper fans at the Red & White Spring Game at 5pm on April 16th. Taggart expects the Toppers to be in bowl games every year, to win Sun Belt Championships every year.

"We want the students, the alumni, and the entire Hilltopper community to be excited about WKU football", Taggart said.

Taggart has rejuvenated the program with his lively enthusiasm or "Juice" as he calls it. "We want all our players and coaches to have a lot of "Juice", Taggart says. Junior All American running back Bobby Rainey agrees.

"Coach T has a lot of Juice, a lot of energy," Rainey said. "We feed off of his energy".

Assistant Director of WKU Football Operations and Taggart's former teammate Trae Hackett has a unique perspective when discussing Taggart as a player and coach.

"One thing that some people didn't realize about Willie as a player was that he was such a student of the game," Hackett said. "So now as a coach, not only does he know his Xs & Os but he also knows how to relate to the players. He is so competitive. He not only wants himself to be great, but he also wants others around him to be great as well."

The Willie Taggart "Chasing Greatness" era in Bowling Green is alive and well. He has set the standards high and the expectations are for every part of the program to chase greatness. Anything less is unacceptable.




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