T.J. Weist to lead USF into bowl after Willie Taggart leaves for Oregon

South Florida Bulls defensive back Nate Godwin (36) celebrates with teammates after intercepting the ball against the UCF Knights during the second half on Nov. 26.
Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — South Florida co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist will lead the 25th-ranked Bulls in the Birmingham Bowl following coach Willie Taggart's departure to Oregon.

Taggart resigned Wednesday to take over a program that appeared in the national championship game just two seasons ago. He went 24-25 in four years at USF, including 18-7 and two bowl berths the past two seasons.

Weist will serve as interim coach the rest of the season, which concludes with a Dec. 29 matchup against South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

Meanwhile, athletic director Mark Harlan said a national search for a permanent successor will begin immediately.

“We will work quickly, but with careful thought and discussion to find our next football coach. … I want to thank Willie Taggart for the leadership, energy, and excitement he brought to our program over the last four years,” Harlan said, adding that the strides the Bulls made under the former Jim Harbaugh assistant “both on and off the field speak for themselves.”

Taggart lost 21 of his first 28 games at USF before going 17-4 over his past 21.

“We now have the foundation of our football program in place,” school president Judy Genshaft said. “We have a terrific group of student athletes who are laser-focused on the Birmingham Bowl and next year's season.”

Taggart leaves USF (10-2) with four seasons remaining on a five-year, $9 million contract he received for turning around a program that fell on hard times after climbing as high as a No. 2 ranking in 2007. The deal he received last winter included a provision for a $1.7 million buyout.

The Bulls won a school-record 10 games this season — losing only to Florida State and Temple — with quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack leading Taggart's high-paced “Gulf Coast” offense.

The Oct. 21 road loss to Temple cost the team the American Athletic Conference Eastern Division title and an opportunity to play in last week's AAC championship game.

Weist, completing his first season at USF, shared offensive coordinator duties with Darren Hiller.

“The trajectory of USF athletics is strong. It has elevated the spirit of our campuses as well as our national profile,” USF Board of Trustees chair Brian Lamb said. “I know that the young men in our football program will continue to be highly successful on the field and in the classroom.”