ZAC TAYLOR, Head coach
MIKE BROWN, President
DUKE TOBIN, Director of Player Personnel
Initial comments ...
Brown: “I want to thank you for your attendance. We’re here to formally introduce Zac (Taylor) as the new Bengals coach. I have to admit, we’ve been delayed. The league rules require that. These aren’t bad rules, they’re good rules. You have two teams that are in conflict over one coach, who has to give his loyalty to two different sides. This is a way of managing that conflict, but it does result in a delay, which is uncomfortable for us. On the other hand, I want to thank the Rams, especially Sean (L.A. Rams head coach Sean McVay), who was so good with how he conducted this matter. It can easily go sideways. The two teams aren’t comfortable and they complain about each other, but there was none of that in this negotiation. I want to say to the Rams, ‘Thank you for how you handled it.’ We have in attendance here Zac’s family — his wife, Sarah, and his two boys are here, Brooks and Luke. The two little girls — Emma Claire, who is three, and little Milly, who is nine months, but has a very fast four-point jog, have gone somewhere where they have their quietness with them and left us here. Also here are Zac’s parents, Sherwood and Julie, and his sister, Quincy. This has to be a proud moment for them.
“The search for our new coach was something that was carried out by the family group: Paul Brown, Katie Blackburn, myself, Troy Blackburn — Katie’s husband who’s not here today unfortunately — and Duke (Tobin). Duke was the one who headed this up. It took a lot of effort, a lot of doing, and I want to credit him. He arranged for I think nine separate interviews. At the end, all of us were in agreement that Zac was the best fit. If you have questions on how that worked, you can feel free at the appropriate time to ask Duke, and he’s here to answer any questions along those lines.
“Zac is a guy who grew up on the offensive side of the ball. That’s where he coached throughout his career. He was a quarterback in college, so he thinks in that way. That’s the trend in the National Football League these days, and we’ll be following that trend. He’s also a young man to be a head coach in the National Football League — he’s in his mid-30s. But I think back, and my father (Paul Brown) was in his 30s when he started as an NFL or pro coach with the old Browns. I think of others that were young then when they were coaches. Of course, you have the head coach of the Rams, who is even younger than Zac. If you check the history books, I think (former Bears head coach) George Halas had to be in his 20s when he did this kind of work. But these young guys are energetic, open-minded, up with the trends, open to new ideas, and they listen. I think that’s a good thing.
“Zac has as a goal to take the Bengals to the top in the National Football League. That’s what all of our fans want, and that’s what all of our players want. Having said enough, I’m going to turn this over to Zac to say what’s on his mind, then any one of the three of us — mainly Zac, of course — will try answer questions. So Zac, I’ll turn it over to you.”
Taylor: “Thank you. Well, this is very exciting. It’s a lifelong dream of mine to be a head coach at the highest level and for a franchise like this. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m excited to put in some hard work and bring great things to the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. My wife and I lived here three years ago. We fell in love with this city, and we are thrilled to be back. I grew up in a football family, and I’m excited to join another family that grew up the same way. Paul Brown was a pioneer in football, and I look forward to working hand-in-hand with his family.
“I’d like to thank Mike Brown, Paul Brown Jr., Katie Blackburn, Troy Blackburn, who’s not here today, and Duke Tobin. From the moment I met them in our first interview, I felt a connection and I knew this was going to be the place for me and the franchise for me. I’m thankful that they felt the same way. We share the same vision, we’ve been aligned from the beginning, and I look forward to working hand-in-hand with them as we go forward.
“I’d also like to thank the Rams organization — Stan Kroenke (L.A. Rams owner/chairman), Les Snead (L.A. Rams general manager), Kevin Demoff (L.A. Rams executive vice president), and most importantly, Sean McVay. Sean gave me an opportunity two years ago and was outstanding to me. Everybody knows that he’s a great football coach, but hopefully everybody knows that he’s a rare human as well, and an even better person. I’m glad I had those two years with that franchise. The assistant coaches there, I formed great relationships with. They have a great staff. Those guys all taught me something, and I’ll be forever indebted to them. The players I was able to coach, I’m appreciative that they let us coach them hard, and that’s why they were playing in a championship most recently. Particularly that quarterback room, led by Jared Goff and the receiver room two years ago, led by (Rams wide receivers coach) Eric Yarber and all those guys. They’re just great players that made a big impact on me and the way that I’ll coach going forward.
“I’d also like to thank my wife, Sarah, and my kids, Brooks and Luke. She’s a rock star. This is about her 1000th move in the last five years, and she handles it better than anybody. My two boys, they’re ready to roll and they’re excited as anybody could possibly be. Brooks is most excited to play Madden and learn all these news players for the Bengals — that’s kind of his deal. My daughters, like Mr. Brown said — Emma Claire and Milly are upstairs so they wouldn’t be too loud. My parents are here — Julie and Sherwood Taylor — from Norman, Oklahoma. They’ve been my biggest supporting cast throughout my whole life. My dad taught me the game, and my mom, Julie, has been my biggest fan. She’s always had a lot of confidence in me, sometimes too much. I remember before my senior year in college, she told me, ‘Zac, I know you’re going to win the Heisman Trophy.’ I didn’t even come close. I’m sorry to disappoint you, mom (laughs). Hopefully today I can make up for that by being a head coach in the NFL. My sister, Quincy, thank you for all of your love and support. My sister, Kathryn, she’s at home right now. Trust me, she’d be entertaining this room if she was here at this moment. My brother, Press, he’s with the Eagles, so he couldn’t make it out today, but I appreciate him. He’s been a big supporter of me, and he’s somebody I can go to for advice. As another colleague in this profession, I think highly of him. I wish he could be here today, but unfortunately he has work to do. I’d also like to thank Mike Sherman, my father-in-law, who really got me into coaching. He gave me my first job, he taught me how to coach, and he’s been a helpful hand for me throughout any time I need advice, even as recent as this morning. He’s always been someone that’s there for me, someone I can bounce ideas off of, and I’m appreciative of him.
“Moving forward, we will establish a culture of high standards and clear communication, on and off the field. We’re talking meetings, walk-throughs, practice, everything. These players want to be held to the highest standard, and we’re going to do that. They’re going to be excited to walk into this building every day. This staff is going to bring energy. Everyone who affects these players is going to have a great presence about him, and we’re all going to be on the same page with a shared vision. These players will be fired up to see what’s in store for them every single day they walk through these doors. We’re going to be a connected team. This business and this sport is all about the people, and we want people that are all pulling on the same rope, with the shared vision. Like Mr. Brown said, we all want to get this thing to the top, and we want to play at the highest level. We want to bring great things to this city and to this franchise. We do that by having a connected team and everyone in this building being on the same page and sharing the same vision, and we will accomplish that. I think everybody wants to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. When we get the right players and the right coaches, and everyone on the same page, which we already have and will continue to do. It’s more important that they’re helping the people that are to their left and to their right accomplish something bigger than trying to help themselves — that’s when we’re going to accomplish all of the things we want to accomplish as an organization. We’ll be on that track very quickly.
“As far as the coaching staff goes, we’re currently assembling it right now. What we’re looking for are great teachers, concise communicators, outside-the-box thinkers, and people who are not afraid to deviate from the norm. We’re in the process of organizing a great coaching staff that you guys will be very proud of and the players are going to be excited to play for. I know that this will not be easy. There’s a lot of hard work involved, but I can’t wait to get started. I’m ready for any questions you guys may have.”
There was a mention of a connection during the interview process. By all accounts, you hit it out of the park in your interview with the organization. What was it that you might have imparted to them, or they imparted to you? What was the catalyst for that communication?
Taylor: “I come from a place that had great culture. I mentioned Sean McVay earlier, and I’ve learned from a lot of great coaches over the course of my career. It’s easy when you just talk about the process you followed on a daily basis, particularly this last season. That’s easy to talk about, and when you believe in it, I think it shows. The best advice I got was just to be yourself. I know a lot of coaches are yellers and screamers and they think they need to be a certain way. Some guys are, and some guys aren’t. I think the advice that has served me the best was to be myself, and so that’s what I did in the interview process. Like I said, I felt a connection, and I’m glad to hear they felt the same way and it’s worked out. I knew really before the interview even started when were just eating breakfast that I felt like this was a great fit for me and my family. Like I said, I’m excited that they felt the same way.”
You mentioned that you’re searching for staff members. Being that you’re basically the last head coach in the league to get a job, is it tough because there are fewer options out there right now?
Taylor: “No it’s not. We need to make sure the right people are here coaching these players. There’s a lot of really good coaches out there, so we’re going to find the right people. We’re urgent in assembling the right people, but we’re going to take our time and make sure that everyone is a perfect fit for this place. We’ll take our time with the process, but I have no concerns that we’re going to get the right people in this building.”
Why did you feel like you were ready to become a head coach at this point in your career?
Taylor: “I’ve been around some great mentors and learned a lot from every single stop I’ve had. It’s probably safe to say that no one ever knows what’s in store at the next job they’re going to have. I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way and I’m ready to lead. I think playing quarterback throughout my youth and through college has taught me how to lead. I’ve had to be around a lot of different people, so I’m excited. With players, as long as they know you can make them better and you will challenge them and hold them to the highest standards, then they will do whatever you want them to do. That’s what we plan on doing here, not only myself but the coaching staff we’ll bring in.”
I know it’s early, but what excites you the most about this roster, specifically the offense and what you think you can do with this team?
Taylor: “There’s great talent on this team. There’s a good mix of young players, rookies and second-year guys, then a good collection of veterans that have been leading and are ready to lead. I’m excited to really dial in and study the players on our team and get to know the players that are around. I had been getting ready for a Super Bowl the last couple of weeks, and it wasn’t fair to anybody in that organization to get a head start. That’s what we started doing the last two days, and I’m excited to continue with that process.”
You mentioned culture a couple of times. What are a couple of the key components of the culture you’re talking about?
Taylor: “Communication, character — those are two things that this thing will be built on. I’m going to continue mention good people and having the right people. That’s coaches and players, because everyone has to have a shared vision and play for each other, and not just play for themselves. I have no concerns whatsoever that those people are in the building and will continue to add to that. The culture drives the program. Everyone runs the same plays, the X’s and O’s are all the same, but people dress it up a little bit differently. If everyone is playing for each other, then great things are going to happen for us.”
Mike, Marvin Lewis said here that he felt like it was just time. For you, why was this time for you to move on from Marvin, bring in a new, young staff and go in such a different direction?
Brown: “That’s a question that’s hard for me to answer. Marvin is my friend, and I’m not going to get into any comments that would seem in any way to disparage him. He did a wonderful job while he was here, but it just was in my opinion, and perhaps in the opinion of others, time to give us a new direction. We had lost some of the faith (from) our fan base — that was clear. That sent a loud message. I think we’ve done it at the appropriate time. We tried to give every opportunity for it to grab hold otherwise, but that’s behind us. I want to look toward the future, and I think we’re starting that now. Our fan base wants that.”
Duke, in the course of an interview process like this, do you pepper a candidate with scenarios — down and distance situations, timeouts, game clock, and personnel?
Tobin: “It’s not at that granular level. What we really do is try to get a feel for the big picture. Football is going to change and evolve. (We’ll) try and find out if the guy can change, evolve and adapt. What his base philosophy is, and is he a teacher? With all of the candidates that we interviewed, we felt like we really knew them before we even walked in the room with them. Then you’re in the interview trying to confirm the things you’ve heard and believe you knew. With Zac, it was natural. Everything that we had heard that brought us to Los Angeles to interview him, we immediately saw in him. I think everyone in the room is seeing exactly what we saw in him when we went out there. It was an easy, natural conversation. It flowed from all the different topics a head coach has to deal with. I think when we started, our big question was, ‘Is he ready for this opportunity?’ Early in the interview, and for sure when we left the interview, all of us felt like absolutely he’s ready for this. So it didn’t get to the, ‘What are you going to call on first down against the Ravens to open the game?’ We didn’t get that specific. We’ll leave that up to him. What we wanted to see was the big picture from him. He’s been really clear today, and he was really clear with us that his vision is our vision. We’re aligned on that.”
At the age of 35, you’re a football lifer. Who other than your immediate family had an influence on your vision of the game?
Taylor: “That’s a good question. I’ve had a lot of great coaches. Bill Callahan and Jay Norvell were my two coaches at Nebraska. Aaron Flores and Troy Morrell at Butler County Community College were some people gave me confidence as a player and were great teachers. Those were my playing days, but when you’re around great teachers that really teach you the game at that level, it makes it a natural progression to go into coaching. There are plenty of them. Joe Philbin gave me my first job in the NFL. There are plenty of people out there who have had an influence on me. I’m thankful to every single one of them. There are some I’m not even able to name (here on the spot); there are so many. There have been a lot of people who have influenced the way I think and coach. Those experiences have been invaluable for me.”
What’s the biggest impact a head coach should have on his team?
Taylor: “Making everyone feel valued and making clear the standards that we’re going to demand from our players on a daily basis. Players want to be coached hard. They want everyone to be coached the same way and held to the highest standards because everyone wants to win. That’s the bottom line. As long as we’re on the same page and we keep talking about culture, because the culture is important. Everybody is going to buy into what we do. I think we will have no issues. This team is hungry and they are ready to be challenged. I look forward to getting that process started. If I could get them in today, I would, but unfortunately we can’t. I’m excited to get this thing started.”
How crazy is this becoming a dream come true for you? Three years ago, you were in Clifton (at the University of Cincinnati) as the offensive coordinator for the Bearcats, and now are back as an NFL head coach ...
Taylor: “I haven’t seen Dan (Dan Hoard, the Bengals’ and the Bearcats’ radio play-by-play announcer) in three years. I didn’t think I would see you three years later, Dan. I’m not going to lie (laughs).”
Dan Hoard: “Sorry about that (laughs).”
Taylor: “I think doing things the right way (brought me here again). I’ve been around good people, and sometimes you need to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve tried to take something from every stop along the way. My time in Clifton (at UC) was invaluable for me. That’s where I learned that this city is full of great people. I loved going to work there every day. It (2016) wasn’t the most successful year UC has ever had, but for me, it was a big part of my journey. There were a lot of things I learned. You face adversity in a season where you don’t win all your games. That really provided a great year for me going into Los Angeles (with the Rams), to be able to reflect on things you would change and do differently. That was a big part of the process for me and part of my journey. It led me back to here. When this interview occurred, I knew everything there was to know about this city, and how excited I would be to come back, and how excited my wife and kids were to come back. I knew the people in this city and how great they were. It’s really a reflection of this organization, which is full of outstanding individuals. We’re thrilled to be back and couldn’t be happier.”
How do you establish your culture or change the culture in Cincinnati?
Taylor: “It’s not in one day. It’s not going to happen April 1 or Aug. 1. It’s a gradual change. When we talk about these standards, I can’t put into words what these standards look like. It’s something everyone will understand as we get going. No detail is too small, and we’ll cover everything, to make sure everything is the way we want it done. Like I said earlier, when the players know that you can help them improve, they are willing to do anything. We’re going to have a positive outlook every day when we walk into this building. There’s going to be positivity. We want to encourage the guys, and we’re going to hold them to a high standard and hold them accountable when they don’t do it the right way. We will build them up and let them know that’s the way we want it done, and we (will) appreciate their effort. The culture is a gradual build, and it’s not going to happen tomorrow, but we’ll get there.”
The fact is that you saw Sean McVay succeed. So what do you take away from him?
Taylor: “It was a critical two years for me, really. We joined a team (the L.A. Rams) that was coming off a couple losing seasons. Again, we saw the culture be built the right way through getting the right people, and having high standards, and holding everybody accountable, and letting there be clear, concise communication. That’s what Sean did a great job of. Those are the things I have always believed in, but I have seen them work firsthand there the last two years. I’m excited to build off that and do it the Cincinnati Bengals way.”
How do you deal with the highs and lows of being a head coach in the NFL?
Taylor: “I love the pressure of football. I don’t know why you would do this if you didn’t love it. That’s why as a young kid you play quarterback I think, because for some sick reason, you feed off of that. You feed off the boo’s, the criticism and the adversity you face. That’s no different than being a head coach. I understand it will be hard at times, but I’m excited for the challenge that it brings. I know that I’m ready for it and ready to get through this press conference and start working (laughs). That’s most exciting for me.”
Do you have any sort of sense that you need to win the fan base back entering this job?
Taylor: “We’ll just do it one day at a time, and that will come. I think we’ll bring an exciting brand of offense, an attacking creative brand of offense. I think people will be pleased with what they see. This is a great city. This is a football town. I recruited the high schools. It’s unbelievable. It’s probably the best city of high school football anywhere I’ve ever been. UC an unbelievable college program, right in our backyard. This is a football town, and people are hungry for it. 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.”
What is your vision for the defense?
Taylor: “A sound philosophy. I don’t want to get too much into the defense, because each guy brings something a little bit different. You never want to pigeon-hole yourself on something, but (I’m looking for) a sound teacher who buys into the way we want to build this culture — a great communicator who gets the most out of his players, because we have talent on that side of the ball. A guy that lets these guys play, understanding what they do best. I feel very comfortable we’re going to find the right person to lead that defense.”
Other than your family and coaches you have been with, who are some other people you admire?
Taylor: “I have always followed Brad Stevens with the Celtics (NBA, Boston Celtics head coach) since his days at Butler. I think I mentioned that in my interview. As a coach, you don’t always have time to read — you have to turn on a YouTube video or listen to a podcast. The one thing I’ve always liked is to listen to press conferences of coaches after good games and bad games to see how they handle adversity — to see how they handle success. He is somebody I followed all the way back when at Butler. I’ve always been impressed by him. I don’t know him or (have ever) met him. I’ve read some books where he is included in the book, but he’s always been someone that impressed me. I have always thought he had a great even-keeled demeanor about himself. I’ve tried to follow him the best I can.”
It is reported that Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is returning. Are you in a position to talk about any of your coaching staff?
Taylor: “Not yet. There will be a right time. We’ll announce it in segments. I know that there have been some great coaches here in the past, so I’m excited to announce them at the appropriate time, but now is not that time.”
What are your impressions of Bengals QB Andy Dalton, and does he fit your system?
Taylor: “Absolutely. I have a high opinion of Andy Dalton going back to 2010. I think I watched every snap he played at TCU his senior year when I was at Texas A&M. It was an offense I really admired, and he executed it flawlessly, to be quite honest with you. I’ve been familiar with him. He’s from Katy, Texas, and I was in Texas for four years. I know all about his background. I probably never pictured I was going to coach him, but I’m very fortunate he’s the quarterback here and I’m excited to work with him. I think he’s a great fit for what we’re going to do offensively.”
What’s the next step — finishing the coaching staff, or evaluating the roster?
Taylor: “I think it’s one task at a time, and I think it’s important to assemble this coaching staff. Like I said earlier, (I want) to find the right people that are the perfect fit for this place, and we’ll do that. That’s priority No. 1. Getting accustomed to the players we have on this roster is secondary. The way it works, you can (sort of) do it simultaneously to an extent. I wish there were more hours in the day, but unfortunately there are not. We’re trying to do the best we can — to balance the two, and proceed accordingly after that.”
Does it feel like you’re already pressed for time with free agency a month away?
Taylor: “No. I think sometimes you just have to breathe. It doesn’t need to happen as fast as you initially think it does. There’s going to be plenty of time. The players show up in two months, so we have time (there), and the combine is in a couple weeks. The important thing is that there are good people in place here. There already are a couple coaches in this building that you trust. You don’t have to do everything — that’s why these people are in place ... to do their jobs and help me along the way. With that trust in place, it makes the process that much easier than people probably expect.”
Is it safe to say the offense will look similar to the Los Angeles Rams?
Taylor: “Well, it works. I think we can all agree (laughs). It would be silly not to have that as the basis of what we do on offense. It’s important to bring in other coaches from other organizations that have different influences and different backgrounds, so we can make this the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense. That was a prolific offense we were a part of this year (with the Rams). It would be silly to scrap that to the side, so that will be a big part of what we do.”
Have you thought about the players you have here in Cincinnati and how it matches up with the style from L.A.?
Taylor: “There’s a lot of talent in place (here), and a lot of different ways you can be creative. I’m excited with the personnel we have. I try not to get too far ahead of myself, because we do have some time to get the scheme organized the way we want to do it. There are some exciting pieces (here), as you mentioned ... some great players who — trust me — I can picture how to use them different ways. I’m excited to get our hands on those guys and get to work with them.”
Can you talk about the disappointment of the Super Bowl loss, and how difficult it is to already turn the page to a new chapter?
Taylor: “It was hard, because you work with those people every single day. We’ve put in so much work since April and over the last two years to get to where we were on Sunday. It was a disappointing way to end the season certainly, but it was such a historic season and one I will never forget. It was special because of the people involved. Yeah, we lost and it was disappointing, but it shouldn’t discount the work that was done throughout the season to get us there. I think it’s important that everyone understands that, because when you lose the Super Bowl, it is disappointing. I can’t read anything that’s written about it or watch anything (about it) right now. I appreciate all the people that were involved — the players and coaches that put in all the work that got us to that point, and the supporting staff, because it really was a special season with special people.”