WKU head football coach Willie Taggart is leaving the school to become the coach at the University of South Florida. Taggart is a Florida native who has been an ace Sunshine State recruiter for the Hilltoppers.
Taggart broke the news to his players after Friday's practice, and then boarded a plane that night for Florida.
At a Saturday morning news conference athletic director Todd Stewart said he, like everyone, had been hearing rumors for weeks about Taggert's future and said he really wasn't surprised given what he called the current landscape of college football.
"I was optimistic that he would stay here because of the financial package we could offer him and because, as he has frequently said, WKU is in his DNA," Stewart said, "After more than doubling his salary a year ago, we were prepared to offer him a much better contract than he even had this year but there are some ties to Florida that obviously weight heavily into the situation."
Hilltopper's tight end, senior Jack Doyle, said the team was initially shocked at the news but Stewart spoke to the players early Saturday morning.
"One thing he said was 'Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react,'" Doyle said. "So it's up to these seniors to get this team right and get them to react the right way. We've been through so much as seniors the past 4-5 years here so there's nothing that can really divide us now."
WKU defensive coordinator Lance Guidry was named interim head coach while the search for a permanent head coach is underway.
WKU will play Dec. 26 in the Little Caesar's Bowl vs. Central Michigan. The Toppers went 7-5 on the season, including wins against Kentucky, Southern Mississippi, and Sun Belt Conference champ Arkansas State.
Taggert had been earning a base salary of $425,000 a year at WKU. South Florida paid their last head coach $2 million annually. Taggert must pay WKU a $500,000 buyout.
For the first time since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Western Kentucky University football team will play in a postseason bowl. After a 7-5 regular season, WKU formally accepted an invitation Sunday to play on Dec. 26 in Detroit in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The Hilltoppers will square off against Central Michigan at 6:30 p.m. (CST) at Ford Field on ESPN.
Just one week after seeing a fourth-quarter lead evaporate, the Western Kentucky University football team scored 15 unanswered points over the final 12:44 to come back for a 25-24 victory over North Texas Saturday on Senior Day at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.