As he prepares for the Feb. 13 Super Bowl in Los Angeles against his old team, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor carved out some time for Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson to talk about converting elements of the Rams program into the Bengals Way, the conversation with Andrew Whitworth and Sunday night's roaring welcome after years of empty returns.
GH: What did you take away from Sean McVay? Play calling? Relating to players? Organization?
ZT: Getting everyone to believe in the process. That can mean anything. It can be talking about the culture. It can be talking about a play you're going to run to win the game. The key is having the energy that people follow. Whatever he says, you believe is going to work. That rubs off on everybody. Players and coaches. When you're there you see a daily process that works and works really well. When you see how he communicates with players and coaches, it can't help but rub off on myself and a ton of other guys that have left there to go on to bigger roles at other places.
Just off the top of my head, Shane Waldron is the OC at Seattle. Liam Coen is the OC at Kentucky. Jedd Fisch, the head coach at the University of Arizona. Brandon Staley is the head coach at the Chargers. Joe Barry is the DC at the Packers. Matt LaFleur is the head coach at the Packers. Aubrey Pleasant is the pass game coordinator for the Detroit Lions on defense. Everybody is in bigger roles because they just believed in what the process was there.
GH: That seems to be the thing that has worked here is getting people to believe in you.
ZT: When you're some place where you believe in how it works, you take that into the interview, you take it into the new job. It just kind of evolves into what our personality is here, what Cincinnati is. It evolves to make it right here. Everything is not the same. But a lot of the meat and potatoes of it are what I learned from Sean. And I learned a ton of stuff from Mike Sherman and all sorts of people. But the most success I had in the NFL was with Sean and I believed in how he did everything.
GH: How did you make it fit here?
ZT: It evolves. You walk in the door and you do what is comfortable to you in terms of the meeting schedule, the practice schedule and how we do all that. Our building is structured differently than theirs. The rhythm of the schedule evolves. We've made it our own. We've made it the Cincinnati Bengals. We have our own culture. It's Cincinnati right now. The Bengals offense, the Bengals defense, the Bengals special teams. We learned from other places we've been, but we've made it our own. We want people to leave here saying, 'This is what I learned in Cincinnati. This is how we're doing to do it somewhere else.'
I'm proud of the culture that we've developed here and the process our guys have bought into.
GH: Define the Cincinnati way.
ZT: It's a building full of Bengals. We define what a Bengal is. It's a physical, hungry, accountable team that is willing to do their all to get the job done. And first and foremost you do that with the players in mind, but I think it also goes around to the coaches and the support staff and everybody who is unselfish and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that we can put our team in the best position possible and represent the organization the right way and I feel like we've got a building full of people who represent that definition of a Bengal.
GH: When you sat down with Andrew Whitworth, what did he tell you about this job?
ZT: He really appreciated his time here. I think he believed that I would really enjoy my time here. He had nothing but tremendous things to say about this place. And I really appreciated that. He's a guy that was leaving somewhere. You could just tell this place makes an impression on people who have left. Players and coaches. I think that you see the love of the former players and coaches who still come around and still love talking about Cincinnati because it really is a special place. Until you get in this building and you're a part of this and then you leave and go somewhere else, I think everyone who has been here understands what I'm talking about. It's hard to put into words if you haven't been here.
We still stay in touch. He has always reached out to me after big moments. About how happy he is, not only for me but for the entire city and organization. When you know Whit, you know that comes from his heart.
GH: You can't make this stuff up. The last game he plays is in the Super Bowl against the Bengals.
ZT: He's had a tremendous career. He's (17) months older than I am. It's wild. I kept that in mind when he was around. A guy my age. I can't imagine. As big as he is, he's in great shape. It's a credit to his process.
GH: Whit, Willie Anderson, Marvin Lewis and a lot of those guys put the foundation here. I imagine he told you despite what you read, you could win here.
ZT: I just knew he had a deep appreciation for this place. I felt like he really enjoyed his time here. I heard that from so many people that had been here before. I knew this was a place I wanted to be. My interactions in my interview with ownership and Duke Tobin, it's a perfect fit. Not everybody wants to be in the Midwest. I do. I think everybody on our staff and the players, they love what we have here in Cincinnati and just a great appreciation for the organization and the city.
GH: What were your thoughts about the cheering crowd that greeted you guys at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday night?
ZT: It was so cool to see the crowd there. Because I can promise you, there were a lot of crappy bus rides my first 15 road games here. After a loss, the plane ride's not fun. You get on the bus, you pull into an empty stadium with no fans out there. And you're thinking, what do we have to do improve?
We work silently behind the scenes to get it right and we've all played a part in this. Everybody on every floor of this stadium has played a part in this. To pull in and you get to think about those bus rides and you see all the fans out there cheering for you, it was really cool. Much appreciated. The comment Duke said to me, 'Jim finally has company.' I didn't see him, but I like to think he was there somewhere. You've seen him. He's there when we walk on and walk off the practice field. He's there when the buses pull out. 'Jim's got company.'
GH: I wasn't here in 1988, but from what I've read and heard, that welcome home seemed very '88esque and even bigger. You guys have put yourselves in the company of all those great teams we write about and talk about.
ZT: We're just focused on the present. I think over time we'll reflect, now is not that time for us. We only have (10) more days to work with. Like we told the players last week, let's have the best seven days we've ever had here. That one is behind us, now we refocus.
GH: You've coached at a Super Bowl. You've lived the experience. What is the first thing you attack? How do you set up the coaching room? Practice? What's first?
ZT: First of all, it is different. It's going to be a little different process than previous Super Bowls. You don't get there as early. The media (setup) is different. It's not going to be as big. For the coach that's a good thing. You can just narrow the distractions down. First thing we do is the schedule. How we practice. What's the best plan in place to make sure our players are right for next week. You do the practice plan. We've spent some time on logistics and from there you leave the rest to the people that can handle all that so the coaches can move forward just on football.
GH: No one knows the Rams like you, but they're even different than the '18 team you were on that went to the Super Bowl, right?
ZT: Absolutely. Just looking at their defense. Maybe one starter that was on that team? Aaron Donald. Then you look at the offensive side of the ball, there are a lot of key pieces that are still there. The two tackles. Tyler Higbee at tight end, Cooper Kupp at receiver. That's it. Brian Allen, the center, was a young player when we were there. It's all new faces. Even the coaching staff. There are a couple of guys left. I know people will play into that I was there. But three years is like 20 years in this league with how much things change and evolve. You have to see who is on tape and approach it the right way.
GH: Just look at the media sessions from that Super Bowl. You couldn't even say you had the Bengals job, but everybody knew. Now three years later you're bringing your own team there. What did McVay do that week that you liked and you might do? Or maybe didn't like?
ZT: I'd rather not answer that. Because if I did or didn't I want to keep it to myself and not let him know.
GH: You guys are really good friends, so how do you handle information?
ZT: We talk a couple of times a year and probably text from week-to-week. I think that's the way it is with coaches. We're all up against it time wise. So someone responds when they have free time, that's just the way it goes. I've coached against my brother four times. At this point when you've been in the NFL for 10 years, you know people on every team. You coached with people, you grew up with people. That's one for the media to tell. I've coached against two quarterbacks I coached for a number of years. (Jared) Goff and (Ryan) Tannehill. You get used to handling all that stuff.
GH: When you talk or text with Sean, do you try not to give him information?
ZT: There is always time to have those conversations. In the offseason you can always have those talks when you know you're in the other conference and you're not playing for a year or two, but nothing that's ever come back to bite you. At this point, teams have evolved so much from Dec. 15 to Feb. 13, there's such an evolution on how you do things that there's never anything you say critically, 'Oh, I shouldn't have said that.' We're not going to talk at this point. We texted after the last game on Sunday night and that's all it's going to be.