BOWLING GREEN — Willie Taggart inherited a Western Kentucky program in the midst of a 26-game losing streak. His rebuilding effort has paid off.
WKU and Taggart announced a new four-year contract on Wednesday that more than doubles the head coach's base salary to $475,000 after he led the Hilltoppers to a 7-5 record, the best mark in the school's three-year history in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"I am very humbled by this show of support, and I will earn every bit of it," Taggart said in a statement. "As I often say, 'WKU is in my DNA' and this is where I want to be. We had a very good season this year in many respects."
Taggart took over a program — once an FCS powerhouse — in disarray after its transition to FBS. The year before Taggart came from Stanford, Western Kentucky went 0-12 and lost by an average of 19.2 points per game.
Taggart's first squad started 0-6, but closed the gap each game before a victory at Louisiana-Lafayette and a 2-10 finish. After an 0-4 start this year, Western Kentucky finished 7-1. The turnaround from a 2-6 conference mark the year prior to 7-1 this season was the biggest since the conference began sponsoring football in 2001.
"While we made great strides this year in many areas, we still have work to do to continue this program's rise to achieving national respect," said Taggart, who played quarterback at WKU from 1994-98. "We need to perform better in non-conference games, and we need to fill Houchens-Smith Stadium on a consistent basis."
Taggart, who made $225,000 in base salary last year, will also have the opportunity to earn numerous bonuses in his new deal that runs until 2015 and includes one-year automatic rollovers until 2019.
If any of his teams win eight games in a season, he'll receive a 15 percent base salary increase. Subsequent eight-win seasons will result in a 5 percent base salary raise.
WKU is also increasing the assistant coaches' salary pool by 20 percent.
With Hugh Freeze leaving Arkansas State for Mississippi, Taggart had been in line to be among the lowest paid head coaches in the Sun Belt Conference. Now, he'll fall in the middle of the nine-team conference.
Rainey Sun Belt's top offensive player
Nine members of the Western Kentucky football team were on the All-Sun Belt Conference team announced Wednesday. That's two more players than the last two seasons combined. Senior running back Bobby Rainey was named Offensive Player of the Year after his record-setting season and was named to the first-team offense.
Rainey rushed for 1,695 yards, setting a single-season record at WKU. He also became the school's all-time leading rusher in a career with 4,542 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
WKU senior offensive lineman Wes Jeffries, a former Warren Central standout, was also named to the first-team offense and sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson was named to the first-team defense.
Junior tight end Jack Doyle was named to the second team on offense along with junior offensive lineman Adam Smith. Junior defensive lineman Quanterus Smith was named to the second-team defense along with senior defensive back Derrius Brooks.