Willie Taggart’s competitive homecoming

When Oregon travels to Stanford this weekend, it will be more than just another Pac-12 matchup for Ducks head coach Willie Taggart, who will go head-to-head with one of his old colleagues and best friends.

While in the process of being interviewed at Oregon, Stanford head coach David Shaw spoke to Taggart about the Pac-12 and gave him some advice.

“Be yourself,” Taggart said at Pac-12 media days in July, recalling his discussions with Shaw. “We talked about Pac-12, and I wanted to know what he thought of Oregon — get his perception. That was important to me.”

The perception of Oregon that Shaw had, according to Taggart?

“A program that could win but for whatever reason, just doesn’t.”

Taggart, who was the Stanford running backs coach from 2007-09, returns to The Farm to take on a program that gave him his first experience in Pac-12. His three seasons at Stanford taught him a lot, but he won’t be doing any favors for his old team.

Shaw was the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach while Taggart coached in Palo Alto. There, the two forged a strong relationship and have remained close ever since.

“I’ve been so excited for him this entire process, and so proud of him and so happy for him as a friend,” Shaw said at Pac-12 media days in July. “To see what he was able to do at Western Kentucky and down in Florida, to be able to have this opportunity for he and his wife Taneshia — I’m just ecstatic for him. I’ll just root against him for one game a year.”

Taggart said that he learned a lot from Shaw while at Stanford and praised Shaw’s coaching ability.

“He followed the blueprint, but he put his own spin on it and it’s worked for him,” Taggart said. “Did I think he could be a head coach? Of course. David’s really intelligent [and] really understands the game. He has tremendous experience on the pro level and on the college level. … And even then you could sense then that he was on his way in. He’s done a great job ever since.”

While coaching the running backs at Stanford, Taggart had a special talent under his guidance: Toby Gerhart.

Taggart said that he still believes Gerhart deserved the Heisman Trophy, for which he was a runner-up in 2009.

“I don’t know who was voting, but that was so wrong,” Taggart said. “So wrong.”

Taggart’s success with the Cardinal run game during his tenure at Stanford is something he’s trying to replicate at Oregon with a running back unit led by senior Royce Freeman, who Taggart compared to Gerhart.

Though it will have a slight feeling of a homecoming for Taggart, it won’t last long as his focus is on leaving the Bay with the Ducks’ fifth win of the season.

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.