BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Western Kentucky University Director of Athletics Todd Stewart announced on Saturday that WKU head football coach Willie Taggart was offered and accepted the head coaching position at the University of South Florida, effective immediately.
"Obviously, we are very disappointed that Coach Taggart will no longer be our head football coach," Stewart said. "He did a tremendous job for WKU - inheriting a program with a 20-game losing streak before posting back to back 7-5 records in his second and third seasons. We had a landmark win in Lexington over the University of Kentucky, and we were the only Sun Belt Conference school to defeat Arkansas State. And, as everyone knows, this past Sunday our program earned our first ever bowl appearance as a Football Bowl Subdivision member. We also had the highest single-game attendance average in our program’s 94-year history this season, including the two largest single-game crowds.
"You cannot overstate the positive impact he had on our football program, athletic department and university. He is an outstanding football coach and an even better person, and I know Hilltopper fans join me in wishing him and his family great success at South Florida.
"I want our fans to know we made every effort to retain Coach Taggart as our head coach. I initially met with him during our bye week in early October and told him we had raised sufficient private funds to offer him a package that could make him the highest paid coach in the Sun Belt Conference. He felt announcing a new contract during the season would be a distraction to the team and wanted to keep the focus on football. We respected that decision and mutually agreed to wait until the end of the regular season to discuss a new contract. This past week we again extended a term sheet that offered him a contract that would enable him to become the highest paid coach in our conference. We were proactive and thorough in our efforts to retain Coach Taggart, and I sincerely thank those individuals that pledged their support to this football program and helped make those efforts possible."
Stewart said that a search for the next head football coach at WKU will begin immediately. Stewart also announced on Saturday that defensive coordinator Lance Guidry will take over as the interim head coach and will lead WKU in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Central Michigan on December 26 in Detroit, Mich.
Guidry has experience in the role, as the former assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) led the Redhawks to a 35-21 victory over Middle Tennessee as the interim head coach in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl, helping Miami finish off a 10-4 season after going 1-11 the previous year. Miami became the first FBS school to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in consecutive seasons.
“We have a great support staff, we have some great coaches that are all in that want to win as badly as these seniors," Guidry said. "A lot of them have been here a long time. Coach [Walt] Wells and Coach [Eric] Mathies have been through some really, really hard times. This is very special to them. I am 1-0 in bowl games, so I have got to get to 2-0. I don’t want 1-1. I think everybody is going to be okay once we get closer to the bowl game. The kids are going to get even more excited.”
Guidry has helped orchestrate a similar turnaround since arriving on the Hill in 2011, helping WKU to back-to-back winning seasons in 2011 and 2012, including the program’s first-ever bowl bid since joining the FBS.
Guidry’s 2012 Hilltopper defense has been a force nationally, ranking in the top 40 in seven different national defensive categories. The Guidry-led defense currently ranks 23rd nationally in total defense (344.42) and ranks 12th in the nation in tackles for loss per game (7.42).
Guidry’s defensive squad ranks at the top of four defensive categories in the Sun Belt Conference, including total defense, pass defense efficiency (128.4), sacks (31) and first down defense (19.3), while ranking second in rushing defense (136.6), scoring defense (25.6), passing defense (206.2) and interceptions (13).
Guidry will assume responsibilities immediately as the Hilltoppers continue preparations for Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit on December 26. Fans and students are encouraged to take advantage of numerous ticket options and travel plans to Detroit by calling the WKU Ticket Office at 1-800-5 BIG RED or 745-5222 locally.