I started the series on new Pac-12 coach profiles with Deion Sanders. Today, I will break down another new coach who went from OC to FCS HC to Pac-12 HC. The similarities between Coach Prime and Troy Taylor end there, though, as Taylor is one of the least recognizable Power 5 head coaches compared to Deion’s Prime Time label.
How He Got Here
Taylor played QB across the Bay at Cal in the late ‘80s and left Berkeley as the school’s all-time passing leader. He held the record for 25 years until Jared Goff broke it in 2015. He was drafted by the New York Jets, served as their back-up QB for two seasons, and even threw two NFL touchdown passes. From that point, Taylor spent two decades becoming progressively lower profile.
The first steps in Taylor’s coaching journey look familiar enough- HS OC, college grad assistant, and eventually position coach at his alma mater. In fact, Taylor spent five years as a position coach at Cal (WRs, QBs, then TEs), but instead of parlaying that gig into a coordinator job, the Bears were horrible during his tenure and he had to drop down to an assistant coaching job at the high school level in 2000. He was out of coaching entirely from 2004-2012 while he worked as an analyst for Cal’s radio broadcast team.
Most Husky fans know Taylor as the coach who helped Jake Browning break every California state high school record. The connection goes even deeper. Taylor started coaching Browning in fifth grade and only returned for another stint as the Folsom HS head coach in 2012 when Browning took over as the team’s starting QB. Browning threw for 229 TDs under Taylor’s coaching and both left Folsom for Washington state. Browning, of course, went to UW while Taylor returned to the collegiate ranks for the first time in 16 years as the Co-OC at Eastern Washington. Taylor led Cooper Kupp and EWU to the national semifinals, setting FCS records for passing yards and total offense. He parlayed that success into the OC job at Utah, which he held for two years before finally becoming a collegiate head coach at Sacramento State at age 51.
Taylor was an instant winner at Sacramento State, which is not an historically strong FCS program. In three years, the team won or tied for first in the Big Sky conference each season. They ranked no lower than 11th in the country in the final polls, though they never progressed beyond the national quarterfinals. In 2022, the Hornets went 11-0 in the regular season, beat five ranked teams, and ascended to #2 in the country. Their season ended in an all-time classic 66-63 loss to Incarnate Word (whose coach, G.J. Kinne, has since taken over at Texas State) in the quarterfinals.
What to Expect
I pointed out in the Colorado breakdown that Sanders excelled at Jackson State by attracting a higher level of talent than any of his competitors could match. Taylor won even more at Sacramento State without a talent advantage. Asher O’Hara, Taylor’s running QB at Sacramento State, was a low-three star recruit from Illinois with mediocre results at Middle Tennessee State before he transferred. The passing QB (the fact that he had a “running QB” and a “passing QB” is already evidence of Taylor’s creativity), Jake Dunniway, was an unrated recruit from San Diego Mesa Junior College. All-Conference WR Pierre Williams was rated by 247 as the 4,021st best recruit in his HS class.
Despite his historical non-reliance on elite recruits, Taylor is off to a fast start in high school recruiting. To date, Stanford has six committed blue-chip recruits and ranks second in the Pac-12 overall. Their transfer recruiting has always been poor and remains at the bottom of the conference for this cycle. With complex admissions processes and no developed NIL collective, Stanford has started behind the eight ball in transfer recruiting, but the fact that Taylor has quickly accumulated high school talent in spite of the NIL disadvantages is a huge feather in his cap and an indication that there might be more upside than originally promised. On the other hand, they lost an ungodly number of players to the transfer portal without finding experienced replacements, so their immediate path to relevancy will be filled with obstacles.
On the field, Taylor’s offenses are as thrilling as his own demeanor is flat. The Hornets played fast and they attacked in a variety of ways. They were in the top 15 in the country in both rushing and passing attempts, which shows an ability to adapt and a willingness to put the foot on the gas pedal. Combined, they ran the second most plays in the country behind Incarnate Word and the most offensive plays per game. While Taylor was a QB and made his name as a coach with Browning’s video game stats, he demonstrated at Sacramento that he is able to take yards that are available regardless of the method. They weren’t always the most explosive, but they kept chipping away to become a top-5 offense in the country in yards/game, TDs, and most other relevant stats.
Defensively, the Hornets weren’t as bad as the 66-point national quarterfinal would indicate, but that side of the ball was undoubtedly their weakness. They finished in the bottom third of the FCS in yards per play allowed. Just as the offense ran the second most plays in the country, the defense had to face the second most snaps. Does the high-volume of plays lend itself to fatigue and lower effectiveness? It’s a fair question to ask and will become even more pressing for Taylor against the likes of Caleb Williams, Michael Penix, and Bo Nix.
To me, the most notable thing about Taylor is what a unique path he has followed. The eight years he spent out of coaching are unique among major coaches. Certainly, the time away from the sideline allowed him to think and refine his approach, a sort of experimentation that calls to mind coaches like Bill Walsh and Mike Leach. For a Stanford team that wrung every last drop out of David Shaw’s “intellectual brutality” and had become stagnant for several years, it was time to try something new. From donor participation to admissions standards, Stanford is a different type of program from most of the teams they play. Those differences require a distinctive approach and Taylor certainly brings that. Whether his lack of recruiting experience or questionable defensive results ultimately prevent him from winning conference titles is a question to answer a few years down the road. For now, we know that he, like Kalen DeBoer, has won a lot everywhere he has coached. Maybe Stanford will be the end of that run for him, but the trend says otherwise.
Will Troy Taylor ever coach Stanford to at least 9 wins in a season?
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