ATLANTA - For the first time in their history the Bengals whisked away their head coach from a Super Bowl when they ferried the Rams quarterbacks coach to Paul Brown Stadium Monday morning to announce the Zac Taylor Era had begun.
The 35-year-old Taylor became the 10th head coach in franchise history just hours after his club lost the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history to the Patriots, 13-3, and that's where his thoughts were in a corner of the hear-a-pin drop quiet of the home locker room in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
"We've just got to get through the night," Taylor said when asked about a job that has been reportedly his for nearly three weeks. "I'm going to finish up with these guys in this locker room that have given us heart and soul and this coaching staff that I've grown so close with. Tonight we focus on this team and the relationships we build. We'll approach tomorrow when it comes."
When "tomorrow," came he and his wife Sarah joined Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn on a private plane ride that the Bengals hope takes them back to the Super Bowl with the same kind of cutting edge offense and razor focus of a culture that brought the Rams to one in just the second season of 33-year-old head coach Sean McVay's tenure.
Despite the reports of his imminent signing, Taylor displayed that meeting-room attention to detail and only talked about the AFC East Patriots and not the AFC North Bengals in the swirling week leading up to Sunday's game. But one could collect the bread crumbs during the week when Taylor talked about the Xs and O and the atmosphere that McVay established to piece together what he'll be bringing to PBS.
"The way he treats the people in the building makes them feel valued," said Taylor of McVay's culture. "He respects everybody's opinion. You've got to appreciate that about him. They treat everyone the right way and get the best out of them.
"There's not a person in our building that doesn't enjoy walking through these doors every morning to find out what's going to come at them next."
It's the kind of culture when McVay said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick outcoached him, Rams quarterback Jared Goff jumped to his defense.
"He's been so good for us all year. I feel his pain to say anything like that," said the banged-up Goff after completing just half of his 38 passes. "We wouldn't have been here without him. We wouldn't have won 13 games without him. We wouldn't have done all the great things we did on offense without him. We wouldn't have had the culture we had without him. We wouldn't have had the people we have here without him. He does so many things for this whole organization. I hope he knows that."
Goff, Taylor and McVay spent the night on the sidelines huddled up trying to decipher Belichick's changing tactics employed so effectively by defensive coordinator Brian Flores in his last act before taking the head job in Miami as the last two new head coaches to be named played chess. Sometimes it was all three men talking. Sometimes it was any combination of the two, but get a good look at it because that's probably going to be the structure in Cincinnati with Taylor expected to call the plays.
"Our staff really takes pride in the communication we have with each other," Taylor said, recounting how they kept going over the game situations trying to anticipate the next ones. "I think that's one of the reasons why we're here. As players and coaches we go a great job with communication and this game was no different. (The Patriots) have been here three years in a row. There's a reason for that. It was their turn tonight."
Get a good look at Taylor's demeanor, too. As Midwest as his post-game outfit of a half-zip-pull-over, jeans, and boat shoes. One of the reasons the Bengals are all in on Taylor is because he's all in on quarterback Andy Dalton and both have the same flat-line football nervous system displayed by Goff.
"We have a very similar approach to the game and how we handle ourselves," Taylor said of Goff, "and I think as a coach you can never be too high or too low."
When Taylor was talking about Goff during the week, it could have been predecessor Marvin Lewis talking about Dalton.
"What you have with Jared and other quarterbacks that have success, they're able to separate good plays from bad plays," Taylor said. "When things aren't going well, he's able to go to the sideline and clearly communicate what went wrong. Some guys are a little defensive when things don't go well. 'Hey, I screwed up.' It allows you to quickly fix the problems as opposed to trying to weed through the miscommunication. That's the great thing about him. You're able to problem solve with him … He's consistent. That's how he is every hour of the day. His demeanor is consistent. Call that whatever term you want to call it. I appreciate that. It makes it easy to do my job."
And the Bengals think he can do his next job after having half a season of calling plays in the NFL and just one full season in college. They're banking on getting one of the game's emerging minds just as his career is kicking into gear. The Bengals love what's not on the resume, like how those that have been around him rave about his brains. How he grew up in a coaching family before becoming part of another one. And how he was a pretty fair country quarterback himself at Nebraska when he became the 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year after an up-by-the-boot-straps journey through junior college and a transfer.
And how he and their family of four children (each born with a different team in a difference city in classic coaching fashion) fell in love with Cincinnati during that 2016 season at UC as the offensive coordinator.
Even though it was a tough four-win season for the Bearcats, Taylor logged it on the good side.
"That year was great for me," he said. "You learn a lot about yourself. It wasn't a successful year. We struggled a little bit. Sometimes you need those experiences where things aren't so easy to help yourself in the future so you can reflect on those experiences. The UC people are some of the best people on the planet."
Taylor may be only 35, but he just finished his seventh season coaching in the NFL and he's got an easy rapport with the national writers that cover the league. During a bull session last week, one of them asked if he was a running college quarterback and he had to laugh, as well as unveil a photographic memory rivalling McVay's famous shutter speed.
"Are you kidding? I had minus-100 yards rushing," Taylor said with a laugh. "I had two one-yard rushing touchdowns. One I tripped and stumbled on the goal line on a scramble. And there was a naked bootleg against USC that was wide open."
And if he didn't know someone asking him a question, he made sure he got their name and told them it was nice meeting them. It was during one of those sessions he revealed that his father, an Oklahoma safety in the late 1970s and later a high school and college coach, was the biggest influence in his life.
Later he divulged how he and his brother Press, 31, the Eagles quarterbacks coach, surprised their father with tickets so he could go to his first Super Bowl a few years back when it was in New York.
"Both of us missed the playoffs so we weren't really happy, but it was great spending time with him," Taylor said.
"Spoiled," he said with a laugh now that the family has been to the last two big games with Press getting a ring last year. "I just couldn't go after we lost (in the playoffs to Atlanta)."
Yes, he'd love to coach with Press one day. He calls him one of the most creative people he knows. But not now: "He's in a good place. I'm in a good place."
There's another big influence in the family. Father-in-law Mike Sherman, who was the head coach of the Packers at the turn-of-the-century for six seasons. When Taylor was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M with Sherman, he met and married his daughter Sarah. But when Taylor talks about him, it's not as a grandparent but as a coach that has heavily influenced him in offensive scheme handed down from guys like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak.
"West Coast offense," Taylor said, recalling how he was the first of the Cornhuskers' post-option QBs. "Bill Callahan brought it to Nebraska in 2004 and it's pretty much the structure we use here."
The West Coast. That goes right to the Bengals' DNA. The West Coast began as the Eighth Street Viaduct Offense because when the Bengals opened shop in 1968 at Spinney Field. Team founder and coach Paul Brown brought his offense from Cleveland to team with Bill Walsh to morph it into the scheme that would dominate the '70s and eve now.
So that makes Taylor already part of the Bengals' family since he is on McVay's branch of the coaching tree. McVay's grandfather worked in the front office of Walsh's 49ers that were built on Brown's principles in Cincinnati on the way to winning five Super Bowls. McVay has read every Walsh book he can get his hands on and one thing has stuck with him.
"There was a clear-cut standard with regards how they ended up preparing, how they planned, how they practiced," McVay said last week. "Very similar to what we've tried to acquire here in high character people that love football, are accountable, that are coachable and have a consistent discipline about the way they want operate. A lot of that stems from Coach Walsh's philosophy."
McVay, who played at Miami of Ohio eight decades after Brown quarterbacked the Red Hawks, is well aware of the West Coast roots.
"Coach Brown was a huge influence Coach Walsh. That's a big part of it," McVay said. "All the great things that Coach Brown did, the way he mentored a bunch of guys that went on to have a huge amount of success and Coach Walsh was definitely one of those. When you talk about the West Coast offense you look around the league and there are very similar approaches and you're running the same plays.
"A lot of that is the verbiage in how you call some of your formations , some of your core concepts, pass protections and run concepts. But he did a great job as really kind of the first one to implement some of the quick game where you horizontally distribute the field. It almost becomes an extension of your run game to take advantage of the width and depth of the field when you throw to backs like Roger Craig and Tom Rathman. Coach Brown had a great influence on that and certainly I read about him being from Miami of Ohio."
Dalton has been in some form of the West Coast for all but one of his eight seasons, but Taylor may end up bringing to PBS a version of the West Coast closer to its roots and that would include former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche. Sherman worked under Holmgren in Green Bay who worked under Walsh. Then there are other contributors, such as Shanahan and Kubiak. All those guys have relied on lethal play-action passing born in a productive running game.
"The consistent way to win is to line up, run the ball and build everything off that," said Taylor as he mused about the history of the West Coast.
But Taylor has also been taking notes on current events, which is clear when he took the questions about how McVay won over a locker room so quickly despite his age.
"He relates well to the players. He's not one of these guys that just gets along with guys. He holds them to a very high standard," said Taylor of The McVay Style. "He's as hard on them as I've been around, but at the same time he does it by being extremely positive."
And he watched him handle social media. But then, he's had to, too, in his own quarterback rooms.
"I'm part of that social media generation, too. I have to tell myself to put my phone down. They're doing it on a whole different level," Taylor said. "I know what it is. You have to meet them in the middle sometimes. It can't be 'Get off social media, get off your phones, we're going to meet for two hours straight. You're talking to a whole generation of players here. You need to understand how to reach them best. 'We're meeting for shorter period of times, giving them five minutes for a break to use their phones … It doesn't matter how much you know, its how much they know. "
As the glum Taylor clutched his Super Bowl Game Day pass Sunday night, he knew he couldn't say much. But he could say he wanted to be back.
"No one ever panicked," he said. "Sometimes it just doesn't go your way."
But Sunday night became Monday pretty quickly and he was on his way.