Willie Taggart credits Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh for putting him on the path that brought him to Oregon.
Taggart was introduced as the Ducks’ coach Thursday following a 4-8 season and the dismissal of coach Mark Helfrich.
In 1994, Taggart was recruited to play at Western Kentucky by Harbaugh, who was then an unpaid assistant under his father, longtime Hilltoppers coach Jack Harbaugh.
Jim Harbaugh remained a constant in his life. He hired Taggart as his running backs coach at Stanford and was the best man at Taggart’s wedding.
“Ever since I met Jim Harbaugh, my life has gone nowhere but up,” he said.
Taggart’s last two head coaching jobs have been rebuilding projects. He has been coach at USF for the past four seasons, guiding the team from a 2-10 record his first year to a 10-2 mark this year and a spot in the Birmingham Bowl.
Before he arrived in Tampa he spent three seasons at his alma mater, Western Kentucky, inheriting a winless program that he turned around with back-to-back winning seasons.
Taggart, 40, is the first coach Oregon has hired from outside the school since 1976. The Ducks’ previous three coaches - Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Helfrich - were assistants who were promoted.
“Good coaches fit just about anywhere and Willie has proven that the past couple of years,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Harbaugh said on Twitter: “From the newest Duck fan, Congrats to @CoachTaggart & The U of Oregon! From Manatee to Eugene, I’ve always been your fan! Happy for you!”
Taggart was 16-20 at Western Kentucky, becoming coach when it was first transitioning to FBS. He went 7-5 in his last two seasons with the Hilltoppers and then moved to USF, not far from where he grew up in Bradenton, Florida.
It took two seasons and a change in offensive philosophy from more pro-style, West Coast schemes to a spread, but he now has the 25th-ranked Bulls rolling. They finished second in the American Athletic Conference East Division to Temple and will play South Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Birmingham Bowl.
When asked what his offense would look like at Oregon, Taggart said: “It’ll be fast. It’ll be tough. It’ll be exciting, for sure.”
After taking over when Kelly left in 2013, Helfrich went 37-16 in his four seasons. He signed a contract extension in early 2015, and had an $11.6 million buyout.
Just two seasons ago, Oregon went to the first College Football Playoff championship game, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. But the Ducks struggled this season with a five-game losing streak - the program’s longest since 1996 - and finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with just two conference wins.
Taggart leaves USF with four seasons remaining on a five-year, $9 million contract. The deal he received last winter included a provision for a $1.7 million buyout.
Oregon President Michael Schill introduced Taggart at the news conference Thursday. His said his only advice was to “go find a great defensive coordinator.”
The Ducks had tried to switch their defense this season, going to a 4-3 scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke. But Oregon finished the regular season ranked 126th out of 128 FBS-level teams for total defense, allowing opponents an average of 528.4 yards per game. Oregon allowed an average of 41.4 points per game, ranked 125th nationally.
It was unclear whether Taggart would retain any of Oregon’s staff.
For now, Taggart will need to reach out to Oregon’s recruits. Defensive back Deommodore Lenoir and defensive end Langi Tuifua both withdrew verbal commitments. Offensive lineman John Vaka tweeted Tuesday he was no longer committed.
Taggert quoted one of Jim Harbaugh’s favorite sayings when he said that everyone in his program would “attack with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
But Taggart also said he’d be his own man.
“I’m going to be me,” he said. “I don’t know how to do it any way else.”
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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