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Taggart first African American head football coach at UO

"If it can be done in Oregon, in Eugene Oregon, it can be done anywhere," says Willie Blasher Jr., a lifetime NAACP member and former UO football player. "And we can be an example of how it's done." (SBG photo)

EUGENE, Ore. -- Willie Taggart is the first African American head football coach at the University of Oregon.

The Eugene Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says the hire marks an important step forward.

"If it can be done in Oregon, in Eugene Oregon, it can be done anywhere," says Willie Blasher Jr., a lifetime NAACP member and former UO football player. "And we can be an example of how it's done."

Blasher was an outside linebacker from 1977 to 1978.

"'Wow!' was the first reaction," Blasher said when he heard the news. He says the hire makes a powerful statement.

"We're saying that we're going forward. And we're not going to make the person's color be a factor that's going to prohibit us from going forward in making the best choice for this community, this university, this state."

Blasher, speaking on behalf of the local NAACP chapter, says Taggart was a good choice. Not only because of his coaching credentials but because of his character.

"That ability to lead and motivate, it goes beyond football. He's in the business of helping men become successes in life," Blasher said "Playing football is something that people do. It doesn't define who they are as people. And what I would hope that we can do in this community is build people that are good people."

Nationwide, only a fraction of Division I head coaches are from a minority group. Taggart is now a part of that list.

"I take pride in that, and I know there's a lot of folks counting on me to do well," said Taggart at Thursday's press conference. "I'm just a football coach that so happens to be African American. But I want to do a great job for all coaches."

The NAACP says it plans to reach out to Taggart about becoming a member.

"No matter how it turns out, I just feel tremendous pride," Blasher says. "That's the best word I can use to describe it; tremendous pride and hope."

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