THE CASE FOR TROOPER TAYLOR AS TENNESSEE'S NEXT OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Update [2007-12-19 7:45:46 by Joel]: While I was writing this, Ghost of Neyland was writing this. Then, this morning we learn that Taylor's also been offered the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State.

Back in June, 2006, Trooper Taylor did a radio interview during which he told of the time that his mother made he and his 14 brothers and sisters clean up a beach they had been visiting. What made it extraordinary is that they didn’t make the mess they had been told to clean up. "The Taylors always leave a place better than the way they found it," (audio link) Trooper’s mother explained.

For four years, Tennessee has been reaping the rewards of the impact that this lesson made upon Trooper’s life, and The Papa must now make a choice whether to let the man go make someplace else better or to offer him the opportunity to continue to do so here on Rocky Top.

It’s by no means an easy choice. Just a few days ago, Tennessee’s current offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, accepted a head coaching position at Duke. It's entirely understandable that coach Fulmer would like to cast a wide net and find the absolute best person available to replace Cutcliffe, and he would surely appreciate having sufficient time to make a prudent decision. But almost immediately after the announcement concerning Cutcliffe, Taylor was offered the position of offensive coordinator at his alma mater, Baylor University. Most believe that Taylor will accept the Baylor position unless a better opportunity presents itself, like, oh, I don’t know, the position of Tennessee’s offensive coordinator.

Is he ready? Nobody can really know. There’s the nagging memory of the Peter Principle at work in the Randy Sanders Experiment. Just because someone has succeeded at every step of his professional career does not necessarily guarantee that he will succeed at the next.

But there’s also the once-bitten, twice-shy dilemma. Just because it didn’t work once, doesn’t necessarily mean you should never try it again.

Here’s what we do know, though. Taylor has succeeded at every task he’s been given at Tennessee. He has, in fact, left whatever he’s touched in better shape than it was when it was handed to him. That’s why I believe he’s worth a shot despite the risk.

The Turn-Arounds

Four seasons ago, Taylor came to Knoxville for an extended visit, and he’s been cleaning up other people’s messes since day one. In his first two years, he took over an underachieving stable of running backs and turned Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs into Tennessee’s only same-season pair of 1,000 yard rushers.

After The Season of Which We Do Not Speak, The Papa asked Taylor to take over for recently-released Pat Washington in hopes that he could work the same magic with a receiving corps that had failed to live up to grand expectations for their first three years on campus. The restoration project was again a success:


 

If you can catch a brick,
you can catch anything.

Taylor went to work right away, whittling the rotation down to just a handful of guys who [would] get the bulk of the snaps. Up-downs followed all dropped passes. Receivers had to catch 100 projectiles per day over the summer, whether they were footballs, tennis balls, or . . . bricks. They were actually catching bricks, which, I guess, would teach you to catch with your hands and not drop what was thrown to you.

Anyway, [they also dug] batteries and coins out of buckets full of rice to improve grip strength, and [they focused] on being aggressive on downfield blocks. [Taylor had] them hopping, and [they started] to make plays . . . .

The wide receivers gained 3,438 yards through the air that season, and Robert Meachem set a Volunteer record for receiving yards (1,298) on his way to becoming a first-round draft pick. And it wasn’t anything Taylor hadn’t done before. In 2001, Taylor coached the nation’s top receiving trio of Adrian Burnette, Kerwin Cook, and Terrell Harris while at Tulane and sent them and one other receiver to the NFL.

Recruit the Recruiter

If Taylor leaves for Baylor, Tennessee will not only lose a turn-around specialist, but also on a variety of talents that Taylor brings to the table, not the least of which will be his contributions to recruiting much-needed talent. I just heard Dave Hooker say on the radio that in looking back at the highly-ranked class of 2005, at least twenty of the recruits either were recruited primarily by Taylor or mentioned to reporters that he was a, if not the, deciding factor.

A quick look at the class of 2007 confirms that this was no fluke, either. Taylor was primarily responsible for the following recruits this past recruiting season:

Eric Berry

DB

 

5-11

194

4.33

1/12/2007

 

Fairburn, GA

Lennon Creer

RB

 

6-1

202

4.47

9/22/2006

 

Tatum, TX

Nevin McKenzie

DB

 

6-2

210

4.4

1/12/2007

 

Athens, TX

Rolando Melancon

DT

 

6-2

260

4.78

11/4/2006

 

Lutcher, LA

Denarius Moore

ATH

 

6-0

175

4.4

1/12/2007

 

Tatum, TX

Ahmad Paige

WR

 

6-3

175

4.4

11/4/2006

 

Sterlington, LA

It is not too much of a stretch to say that had Trooper Taylor not been involved in recruiting these guys that at least some, and perhaps all, might not have committed to Tennessee. Take RTT No. 1 Eric Berry, for example, who said this of being recruited to play at Tennessee:

I talk to coach Trooper the most and I can relate to him the most. He always tells me how it is a family up there and you can see that. I saw it Saturday [during a recruiting visit] with the way he treats Robert Meachem. It is like they are father and son. I know he turned down more money last year to go to Texas to stay at Tennessee. That is impressive to me.

Also take note that when The Papa sought to close the deal with Berry, it was Taylor he selected to go with him into Berry’s living room.

When Tennessee realized they had a chance at RTT No. 5 Lennon Creer, who did they put on the case? Taylor:

People go from Tennessee to Texas, not the other way around, remember? But heeeeyyyyy, isn't assistant coach Trooper Taylor from Texas? Yeah? Well, let’s just send him down there and see what he can do. Perhaps We Can Work It Out.

*     *     *     *

So credit coaches Taylor and Fulmer once again. Sure, Creer liked the academics, the family atmosphere, the stadium, and Tennessee’s history of putting running backs into the NFL. But mostly he just liked the people, specifically coaches Fulmer and Taylor, who lured him to Tennessee. What do you know? Sometimes people do go from Texas to Tennessee.

Taylor also had an effect on several other key recruits. While he was down in Texas, Taylor recruited RTT No. 14 Denarius Moore, who cited an affection for Tennessee’s coaches, among other things, as one of the reasons he chose UT. Taylor even had an extended-release domino-type impact on RTT No. 13 Todd Campbell:

. . . . In the end, Campbell simply could not say no to coach Trooper Taylor’s contagious enthusiasm, which apparently had a long-lasting effect, because the recruit almost immediately became the recruiter, helping the Vols land Chris Walker, Chris Donald, and Ben Martin, three guys in the top ten of this year's class. That's worth the price of admission right there.

If you really want a taste of Taylor’s value to the program, though, have a look at the recruiting profile for RTT No. 4 Ahmad Paige:

Paige had sort of committed to FSU. He still had a list of six, but Georgia had replaced LSU as one of the chosen because head coach Mark Richt "was the offensive coordinator when Florida State was good on offense and they won," which is a hilarious statement if you harbor any animus toward the FSU program. About this time, Paige really started talking up Tennessee assistant coach Trooper Taylor, too, calling him a "phenomenal guy."

*     *     *     *

. . . the most impressive thing about Knoxville was apparently Paige’s one-on-one time with Trooper Taylor:

I would say that what stood out the most to me was just when coach Trooper picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hotel. We had a great time, just joking, having fun. That was the best part for me.

I knew that Taylor was an impressive conversationalist, but if riding in a car with him is better than a home football Saturday, well then, the man’s even better than I thought.

*     *     *     *

Perhaps it was the fact that Florida had pressured him to make a decision. Or Robert Meachem’s declaration for the NFL draft making room for three rather than two new wide receivers for the first snap of the season. Shoot, maybe Trooper Taylor just got the guy in the car again for another ride. Whatever it was, Florida was suddenly out of the race on February 4. On that same day, Paige was weighing Southern Cal’s pros (early opportunities for receivers) and cons (man, that was a long trip!)

On Signing Day Eve, Paige broke the news to Trooper Taylor that he’d be going to Southern Cal. He should have written him a letter, because Taylor talked him out of it on the phone, and Paige signed the next day with Tennessee. Taylor had turned Paige:

[Coach Taylor’s] a great guy. I love him to death. He includes me in with his family and everything. I can’t say anything bad about him. He’s a great, great guy.

Somebody say woo for Trooper.

Somebody say woo for Trooper indeed. Wherever he ends up, it will be a better place for his presence. I, for one, hope that place is Knoxville.

We all know that The Papa can recruit players. Here’s to hoping he can recruit coaches, too.

Trooper Taylor is a five-star/ten jar recruit, coach Fulmer. Time to close the deal and get him signed.

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