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Need to Know

Rewarding Taggart, Even if Bowls Won’t

As noted yesterday, Western Kentucky did not earn a bowl bid despite finishing second in the Sun Belt. In addition, the Hilltoppers beat both Florida International and Louisiana-Lafayette, the two non-S.B.C. champions that earned two of the conference’s three bowl tie-ins, joining Arkansas State. Unfair, to put it lightly. And that Western Kentucky is staying home in December underlines the fact that when it comes to bowl selection, it really doesn’t matter what your final record is, let alone your head-to-head record against those teams also jostling for lower-tier bowl position.

But there’s some good news: Willie Taggart’s going to get paid. And rightfully so — absolutely, unequivocally, rightfully so. A quick glance back at Western Kentucky’s F.B.S. history reveals the program’s rocky road into Sun Belt contention. The Hilltoppers went 0-12 in 2009, the program’s first season as a full-fledged member of the Sun Belt.

That was David Elson’s final season with the program; Elson helped bridge the gap from the F.C.S. to the F.B.S., but 2009 featured losses to Central Arkansas, both Louisiana schools and North Texas, which will put any coach on the hot seat.

As his replacement, the program chose Willie Taggart, a former W.K.U. quarterback and assistant fresh off tutoring Stanford’s Toby Gerhart during his push for the Heisman Trophy.

Two years later: Taggart has the Hilltoppers battling for the Sun Belt title. Unexpected? That’s putting it mildly; no other team’s run to bowl play was more unforeseeable, and it’s only fitting that W.K.U. is going to break out the checkbook to reward its second-year coach.

Beyond a future restructuring of his contract — adding years and money — Taggart is due to reach a handful of incentive-laden bonuses in his current contract, signed prior to the 2010 season.

He’ll make $10,000 for winning at least six games. He’ll make another $10,000 for winning seven games. W.K.U. will owe Taggart another $10,000 if he finishes with the Sun Belt’s best recruiting class, such as he did a season ago. But Taggart won’t make a $75,000 bonus for reaching a bowl, which hurts.

Western Kentucky will make up that loss, and then some, when it reworks Taggart’s contract. The university will try to tie Taggart up for the long haul, though that seems like an impossibility. Even if Taggart is working at his alma mater, it would be tough for the Hilltoppers to retain his services when a B.C.S. conference program comes calling.

And the big boys will call; they may be already, though W.K.U. will hold onto Taggart for at least one more season, if not more. This season definitely raised Taggart’s profile, but he’ll probably need to repeat this year’s success in 2012, if not 2013, to reinforce the idea that he’s a program-builder, not a one-year flash in the pan.

Taggart will get a well-deserved financial upgrade, which is great. But his team won’t head to bowl play, which is unfair. But making a deeper commitment to Taggart, the program will attempt to ensure that the Hilltoppers remain a fixture in the Sun Belt hunt, as well as a consistent threat to reach postseason play.

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  1. DaU!!!! says:

    It sucks that he cannot receive that bowl bonus. From win less to 7-5 in two seasons with a program that recently made the transition FCS to FBS is an amazing feat. BTW Toby Gerhart was a beast when he was at Stanford: baseball and football. I thought he should have finished at least third in the Heisman voting.

  2. Burnt Orange says:

    I think a sub plot to follow is DC Lance Guidry. You may remember him as the interim Miami(Ohio) coach who gave such a rousing televised pregame speech before Miami’s bowl game last year.

    Apparently, the guy can really coach defense and WKU won a lot of close fairly low scoring games this year. Unfortunately, he has had repeated off the field issues and you have to wonder if he will be back,and,if not, can he be effectively replaced.

  3. Adam Nettina says:

    How the heck is “best recruiting class” determined? Rivals.com? Scout.com? ESPN Scouts Inc? Tom Lemming? Phil Steele? Seems like a very subjective thing to put in a contract, so I can imagine their is a stipulation about which servie accounts for “best class.” As a side note, what a dumb clause. Can he come back in four years and reclaim the money if his class was not deemed “best” this year but WKU ends up winning the Sun Belt Title four years from now?

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