One possible candidate Illinois AD Mike Thomas may consider to fill the Illini head coach vacancy is Western Kentucky leader Willie Taggart.
Taggart, at just 35 years of age, is the youngest head coach in Division 1 football. After being hired as the WKU head coach in November, 2009, the Hilltoppers went just 2-10 in his first season. However, in Taggart's second year, he helped guide WKU to a record of 7-5. Taggart was responsible for giving WKU its first home win since 2008, its first five-game winning streak since 2005, and bowl appearance.
Adding to Taggart's resume is his record as a talented recruiter. Both of his two recruiting classes at WKU were named No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference by Rivals.com.
Before taking control at WKU, Taggart was the running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-2009. During this period, he had the honor of coaching Toby Gerhart, the Doak Walker award winner and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy award. In 2008, Stanford's rushing attack averaged 199.6 yards per game, and he followed that up with 224.3 yard per game in 2009. As with WKU, recruiting was a strong point for Taggart at Stanford. He got credit for recruiting out of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and parts of California.
Taggart's first coaching experience came at the same school he is currently coaching. He was a member of the Hilltoppers's staff from 1999-2006.
Taggart started off as wide receivers coach, until he took the spot as quarterbacks coach from 2000-2006. In 2001 and 2002, Taggart was also co-offensive coordinator, where he helped guide WKU to a Division I-AA national championship in 2002. In the 2002 campaign, he helped coach an offensive unit that set school records for points (432), total yards (5,479), and first downs (263).
To reward his success, Taggart was promoted to assistant head coach in 2003, where he continued until leaving for Stanford.
Taggart's rich history at WKU goes beyond his coaching days. He was a quarterback for four years at WKU, breaking 11 school records. Taggart is still the WKU all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (47) and ranks second in scoring (286 points), pass efficiency rating (127.71), and rushing yards (3,997). He had the most rushing yards for a QB in NCAA Division I-AA history at the time.
In his last two seasons, Taggart was a finalist for the Walter Payton award, given annually to the top offensive player in Division I-AA football. As a senior, he was named an All-American and the 1988 I-AA Independents Offensive Player of the Year. In 1999, WKU retired Taggart's jersey.
WHY HE WOULD BE A GOOD FIT AT ILLINOIS: Taggart has proven he is a good recruiter, an important aspect in college football. He already has head coaching experience, a quality that will attract Mike Thomas. And Taggart is a young and energetic coach, which is the type that attracts players.
WHY HE MAY NOT BE A GOOD FIT AT ILLINOIS: Although being young has an upside, it may also be a bad quality. Taggart is much younger and has overall less coaching experience than most of the other possible candidates. This raises the question, would he be ready for a head coaching spot in a powerhouse conference such as the Big Ten?