Taylor was the architect of a quick fix when he took over the tradition-rich but downtrodden Florida A&M program in 2008. Rattler pride had taken a beaten the four seasons prior to his arrival, compiling a 19-25 record and finishing eighth in the nine-team the MEAC with a 2-6 conference record and 3-8 overall mark. Taylor guided the Rattlers to an improbable 9-3 mark his first season, tying Florida A&M legend Jake Gaither for the most victories in school history for a first-year coach.
Taylor took considerable pride in his reputation for developing his players off the field as well as on it, and frequently described his coaching career as his ministry. He always encouraged his players to develop the spiritual side of their lives in addition to the academic and athletic sides.
“(He) tries to prepare us for life,’’ says Rattlers linebacker Brandon Hepburn assessment of Taylor’s coaching style. “He is more concerned with our character and with how we carry ourselves overall, not just on the football field.”
Taylor saw to it that team members were involved in community service projects, and it was not uncommon for his teams to attend church together and participate in other religious activities.
“You can’t be a champion on game day and a butt hole all week,’’ Taylor says. “You have to be a champion seven days a week. I think (on) Sunday, everybody should be in somebody’s church. Find a man’s spirit, there you also find him. When his spirit is right, then everything else follows.’’
Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley played for Taylor at Virginia Union and was a graduate assistant on Taylor’s staffs at Virginia Union and Hampton.
“A lot of people have been able to witness the miraculous things Coach Taylor has done with young men,’’ Hill-Eley says. “I was one to experience it. I’ve seen him take guys the whole world had counted out and change them into productive citizens. I’ve been able to witness someone who before they gave you Xs and Os gave you scripture out of the Bible. They gave you inspiration from day to day so you knew it was (about) much more than football. I can’t think of anyone who sat with Coach Taylor who couldn’t tell you he was a great schemer when it came to football, which he was. They can also tell you he was an architect of men. He knows the blueprint in creating success. He knows the blueprint in making men.’’
NFL free agent defensive tackle Marcus Dixon is one the ones counted out by the world, but not by Taylor. Dixon, as a high school senior in Georgia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a statutory rape conviction in a high profile case involving a 15-year-old white girl who testified that she and Dixon had consensual sex.
The conviction was overturned, but Dixon was left scarred. Vanderbilt withdrew the scholarship that it had offered him, and other major programs considered him persona non grata. Taylor looked beyond the newspaper headlines and saw a young man with a 3.96 grade-point average who deserved an opportunity, and he gave it to him. Dixon went on to graduate from Hampton in four years before embarking on a pro football career that has seen him play for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.
“I always said, even when I was 17,18 and starting out with him,’’ Hill-Eley says, “that he was such a great man that I wanted to emulate him as much as I could by doing the same for men that he did for me and many others. A lot of those guys didn’t have fathers, didn’t have guys who stayed consistently in your life whether you did good or you did bad. Coach was one of those guys (who stayed in your life consistently). He held you accountable. But you knew he was going to be in your corner wrong, right or indifferent, and you had to pay the piper if you did something wrong.’’
Taylor got into coaching because of his admiration for Bob Heddon, his coach at Cordozo High in Washington, D.C.
Taylor worked with Heddon in a city-run youth sports program during the summer when he returned home from Western Illinois, where he played fullback and guard for the Leathernecks. He also helped Heddon coach in a summer all-star game.
“I decided this is what I needed to do,’’ Taylor, a Business major at Eastern Illinois, says. “I said, ‘He’s giving back to me. I owe the same to those I can help. If you’re in the business for anything other than helping young people, you’re in it for the wrong reason.’’
Taylor says he is done with coaching but not with trying to impact young men’s lives. He began writing a book in January titled “Winning Is An Inconvenience,” that will be in bookstores at Thanksgiving. He will spend the next six months promoting his 220-page, 18-chapter work with the foreword written by Bobby Bowden, the Hall of Fame coach at Florida State, and the afterword written by Tony Dungy, the winning coach in Super Bowl XLI.
The book consists of inspirational stories and focuses on the positive values of sports. He calls it “a give back type project that signifies everybody’s career.’’
“It’s three phases to everybody’s career,’’ he says. “The first phase is ascension. You’re building your brand, putting in work ethic. We did that. The second phase is maintenance – make sure you don’t do anything to take away what you built. We passed that test. The third phase is giving back. That’s what book is about. A lot of people say I’m giving away all my secrets. I say I’m giving back.”