On Tuesday Zac Taylor officially took one of the 32 most coveted jobs on the planet when he became the Bengals’ 10th head coach and if it looks like a meteoric rise, his father and father-in-law know better as the two most influential men in his life and career.
Sherwood Taylor, who was there Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium when the introduction was made to the world, thought his son’s playing days were all over until Zac asked him to help find him any junior college that would take him. Two years later he was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
Mike Sherman, who wasn’t there Tuesday because he’s the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, gave him the lowest job on the coaching rung at Texas A&M 11 years ago. It was such a low graduate assistant position that he wasn’t even on the field for that first year. After Taylor remained a G.A. for three more seasons, Sherman took him to the Dolphins as an assistant quarterbacks coach before he worked his way to the front of the room as the quarterbacks coach.
“I think Ryan Tannehill will have very nice things to say about Zac Taylor,” said Sherman of the quarterback they drafted No. 1 when they got there.
Now at 35 years old his son-in-law is looking to fill an NFL coaching staff.
“He’s paid the price,” Sherman said Tuesday night from Canada.
Taylor is close enough to wife Sarah’s father that he was on the phone with Sherman Tuesday morning bouncing ideas off him. Not a bad call since Sherman coached the Brett Favre Packers for six seasons at the turn of the century and finished 16 games over .500. Maybe the best advice (and the always unassuming Sherman insists he doesn’t need it) stems from Sherman’s own first day on the job as the head man for one of pro sports’ most revered teams back in 2000.
Sherman went to dinner with Ron Wolf, Green Bay’s Hall-of-Fame general manager, and when he got back to his office he can still remember what time it was. Ten past ten. And he was thinking he was sitting in a chair that once belonged to Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
“I don’t think anybody is actually ready for the job. I remember when I was in Green Bay and I was 44 when I got the job and back then that was young,” Sherman said. “I said to myself, ‘What do I do now?’ You get on the phone and you start making calls to put together a staff. You grow into the job. If you haven’t been there before there’s no book that can help you do it. You just have to learn how to do it. It takes time. Day-by-day. He’s smart. He’ll figure it out.”
Like everyone else who has watched Taylor, Sherman admires his calm. He told Sarah to make sure she enjoyed Tuesday, too, because she’s been a big part of it as the mother of Taylor’s four children and the emotional anchor well earned during a life she has had 17 different addresses. They’re quite a match, he thinks.
“Very smart. When combined with that temperament of not getting very high or very low, he’s the kind of guy that keeps the ship afloat and moving in the right direction at all times,” Sherman said. “Those qualities are probably his greatest strength along with his character. Very honest. In this day and age the players want transparency. They can see right through you. You’re going to get Zac Taylor, not get somebody else. He’s going to be himself and not try to be somebody he’s not. If he does that, he’ll do a wonderful job there.”
Taylor is taking good notes. His boss in Los Angeles, Rams head coach Sean McVay, led them to the Super Bowl with a cutting edge offense even though he’s just 33. So Taylor’s hire has been drowned in McVay Jr. B.S. and coaching branch buzz. And he has rejected it at every turn.
“Sean is a very dynamic personality. He walks in front of a room and he energizes that room. And that's Sean's personality,” Taylor said. “I'm a little more reserved. That's just how the way that I am. So I'm not going to try to be Sean. Sean is spectacular in his own way and I'm going to do it the way I feel most comfortable with and has got me to this point.
“If I try to be Sean McVay, I'm going to fail. To be quite honest with you. We're different people. I've learned a lot from him, but I'm going to be Zac Taylor and do the best I can my way. And not my way, it's the Cincinnati Bengals way. Right? Everyone's on the same page and we're going to get the most out of everybody here.”
Taylor gets that reserve from his father. Sherwood says his youngest son Press, 31, the Eagles quarterbacks coach, is more up and down. He thinks both of them have great coaching personalities and he should know. After he was done playing safety at Oklahoma in the late ‘70s, he stayed in Norman and coached with the Sooners for a few years. Then he left for a stint at Kansas State before going back home to open a textbook company and coach the boys on the youth level. Now he owns a business that sells letter jackets and he thinks he made the right call with a capital C.
“Coaching was just tough with raising a family,” Sherwood said after watching Zac take the helm.
Zac rode his bike to the Oklahoma games and loved the Boomer Sooner bumper stickers, but he just wasn’t big enough to draw much attention coming out of high school. His career at Wake Forest blew up when the coach left and with no one else in sight, he told Sherwood he wanted to keep playing even if it meant going Juco. They settled on Butler Community in El Dorado, Kan., and even though he led them to a national title game, Taylor felt like he blew his chance with a less than scintillating performance in the big one.
“But the Nebraska coaches told him it didn’t matter how he played in one game. They wanted him,” Sherwood said. “He ended up at the perfect school. He couldn’t have drawn it up any better. It was the perfect time for him to be at Nebraska … I’m telling you. The kid just doesn’t quit.”
Imagine a former Sooner uttering those words. Zac had arrived on campus with head coach Bill Callahan and he learned the West Coast offense that he plans to make into the Bengals playbook.
“It got him where he is today,” Sherwood Taylor said. “I think the first day there Bill drew up nine plays with 15 words with the West Coast having all the verbiage. Zac came back the next day and drew them all up and was ready to go. It’s easy for him to do all that.”
His son is the first to tell you that it’s a former Nebraska graduate assistant in the sports information office that has made it a lot easier. Sarah Sherman’s job was to get the football players to their media interviews and she particularly enjoyed it when he she was assigned to get the quarterback there. On autograph day she was told to keep an eye on Taylor because they knew he would sign for days if they didn’t cut him off. When she cut him off, he noticed a child was next.
“He said, ‘I’m going to keep signing,’” Sarah recalled. “And I thought, ‘Ooh. I really like him now.’” Their first date at Chili’s soon followed.
The Bengals have tapped her husband for his offensive acumen, but her love of Cincinnati has received almost as much ink. They fell for the town two years ago when he served as the University of Cincinnati offensive coordinator and she’s eying a return to Mount Lookout and the E &O Kitchen, where she can still taste her favorite Brussel Sprout Salad.
Zac Taylor Through The Years
A look at the Bengals new head coach Zac Taylor from his previous coaching stops and playing days at Nebraska.
“When Zac went on the interview I had to go to Target and shop to distract myself I was so nervous,” Sarah said. “I wanted to be here so badly. I know that sounds weird. But I’m a Midwest girl. The people here are so good. It’s easy to get around, it’s easy to get to the airport. It’s just easy.”
But everyone knows the job isn’t easy. And Taylor seems to know if he’s going to do it, he’ll have to continue to be the reserved long-shot grinder. That’s how plans to build his program.
“I’m going to say culture a thousand times,” Taylor said. “You’re going to hear it because that’s what is most important. There are great schemes everywhere. We can steal plays from everybody. We’ve got our own plays. That’s the way this league works. But what is important is the details and the techniques and the way that it’s taught and the way it’s communicated and we have to make sure we’re the best in the world at that.”
Grinding. He calculated he was the sixth quarterback on Jon Gruden's depth chart that one fleeting NFL camp in Tampa as a rookie. Never took a snap. Never played in Canada. Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, a former college QB who also transferred, has him in the Bengals 2007 draft book undrafted.
"I looked at him and thought as a player he'd make an excellent coach," said Tobin, who wasn't joking when he also said, "I thought I was a real quarterback and that other people were wrong. He was a real quarterback."
Leave it to Whit to probably capture that chip best.
Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the heart and soul of the Bengals locker room for 11 seasons, loves the fit and has been telling Taylor that for a month.
"He's a back-up quarterback who tried to make it in the NFL. He's got that mentality," Whitworth said. "He's a fighter. He's a sharp guy with a little attitude to him."
He's a guy that always remembered the Boomer Sooner bumper stickers. He wanted to go to a town where they wore football on their sleeve. When he recruited the local high schools that one year at UC,he found it.
."This is a football town, and people are hungry for it," Taylor said. "They want it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’re going to do our best to put the best product on the field and make them very happy.”