TAMPA — He looked like someone who might check under your hood, perhaps change the oil or rotate the tires.
But this was a football coach.
University of South Florida first-year coach Willie Taggart, continuing to place his imprint on the program, wore a working man’s blue shirt – complete with “Willie’’ name tag – to Monday’s first day of fall practice. It’s a visual strategy he learned at Stanford University, while serving as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh, and carried over to Western Kentucky and now USF.
Taggart wants a blue-collar attitude.
“This pretty much represents our football team and what we’re going to be,’’ Taggart said. “We want to be a blue-collar football team. That’s who USF is. They started off in trailers, didn’t have these beautiful practice fields.
“I told our guys there’s someone we know or someone in our family who worked really hard to get us where we’re at. There’s someone who has been through this program who has worked really hard to get us where we are today. We need to show them we appreciate them and what they did. We want to work really hard, be one of those teams that works at all costs.’’
Blue shirts, along with individual name tags, were distributed to all players, Taggart said. There’s no set plan when they will be worn, but look for the blue shirts to become a familiar presence.
The Bulls, coming off a 3-9 season, seem eager to make amends. USF’s opener is Aug. 31 against McNeese State at Raymond James Stadium. It was picked for fifth place in the preseason poll of the American Athletic Conference, a 10-team league that includes Big East holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and Temple, along with UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU.
“Everybody is excited and ready to play,’’ USF senior middle linebacker DeDe Lattimore said. “We wish we didn’t have to do (training camp). We wish we could go right to the games.’’
But training camp is a necessity. The depth chart is “fluid’’ and everyone has a blank slate and opportunity to step up, including the freshmen, Taggart said.
“Some guys are ahead of other guys, but everybody is still competing,’’ Taggart said. “We can’t take days off. We’re not going to allow them to take days off on this football field. We want them to love each other off the field, but on the field it’s competition.
“We’re not going to worry about (hurting someone’s) feelings. We’re not into that stuff. It’s about competition, getting better and working every single day.”
Taggart is not certain when he’ll name a starting quarterback. Holdovers Bobby Eveld and Matt Floyd are competing against Steven Bench, a transfer from Penn State, and freshman Mike White.
“When the time is right, when the guys are doing what we asking them to do, we’ll pick one,’’ Taggart said. “We’re not going to put a time limit on it. If it’s Aug. 31, 6 o’clock before the game, that’s when it will be. Hopefully, we’ll have someone before then.’’
“I’d like to have a set quarterback very soon,’’ USF junior wide receiver Andre Davis said. “But whoever it is, we’ll be fine.’’
In the meantime, USF will continue competing and working at all positions.
Key word: Working.
And what might USF students think when they see Taggart walking around campus in his blue shirt?
“Hopefully, they’ll say he’s a hard-working guy,’’ Taggart said. “They’ll see me walking really fast, working really hard, doing something.
“When you go to the shop, you see (auto mechanics) working. You don’t see them standing around and talking. You see them working. That’s what we want around here. Blue-collar, baby!’’