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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Willie, now is the time to do something

TAMPA — Willie Taggart must go.

No, he must not. We’re kidding.

Stay, Willie.

We’ll go.

No one gets fired for his first game. And let’s be fair: Nobody goes into Raymond James Stadium and beats McNeese State.

McNeese 53, South Florida 21.

Do not try to adjust your sports page.

How do you start with rock bottom, the worst loss in South Florida football history?

How does McNeese State hang half-a-hundred on you?

Has anyone laid a bigger egg than Taggart did Saturday? It was impossibly large. In front of all that family and friends up from Palmetto, after all the Feel Good that went with Taggart’s hiring and his signature exhortation, “Do something!” … in front of a USF crowd that barely filled only half the stadium, but brimmed with optimism, especially after a blinding start …

It was nothing less than stunning, a disaster for a program that brought in Taggart to ward off irrelevance and oblivion.


Why, it’s an embarrassment for the new American Athletic Conference, if such a thing is possible. It probably isn’t.

Somewhere in Ruston, La., Skip Holtz was sitting by the fire (I don’t think they have electricity there), sipping Merlot and laughing uncontrollably — and the Skipper lost by 26 in his Louisiana Tech opener.

Somewhere in Tampa, Fla., USF athletic director Doug Woolard’s phone, and job, are vibrating.

And to think, it began so well.

Willie Taggart marched his kids through what crowd there was in the parking lots before Saturday’s game, a new tradition, the “Bulls Stampede,” players in dress pants and shirts, golden ties, green sweater vests. Taggart led his guys out of the tunnel, too.

Then there was that first offensive snap for USF. Senior running back Marcus Shaw bursting up the middle, then gone, for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, nothing to it. Shaw went 80 yards. The new head coach ran about 40 yards himself, chasing the play down the sideline. There was bedlam. Stampede, indeed. The only question was how lopsided it would be.

They lurched to the locker room, down 33-7.

There was booing.

A USF radio reporter stopped Taggart.

“This isn’t how we’ve looked in practice,” Taggart mumbled.

From Western Kentucky to the state of Florida to a state of shock.

For good measure, Matt Floyd, Taggart’s choice for quarterback, was completely awful.

And to think, USF paid McNeese $400,000 to be here.

And to think, the real season wasn’t supposed to begin until next week at Michigan State.

Yes, the honeymoon has ended, and for a fleeting moment Saturday, you wondered if Taggart wished he’d gone to Niagara Falls instead, and over it in a barrel.

Everything had been oh, so nice after Taggart was hired. The Harbaugh strain, a great coaching pedigree. We knew this was an up-and-comer in the business.

He still is.

Only now he has to get up off the mat to prove it.

McNeese State.

Willie Taggart must not go.

Remember: Tony Dungy went 1-9 in his first nine games with the Bucs. And Chuck Noll, who won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, won one game his first season.

And did you know Abraham Lincoln’s first draft of the Gettysburg Address began, “So, Grant and Sherman walk into a bar ...”?

It can’t get worse than Saturday.

That said, it’s real simple, already.

Willie, do something.

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