By Jeff Greenberg
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word ‘Coach’ as the following; a person who teaches and trains an athlete or performer. While true, on occasion this definition is inadequate. A good coach does indeed prepare athletes to participate in sports, but a small percentage of coaches are much more than teachers. These few are mentors. These coaches are paternal in their development of players. These coaches are the ones you remember for the rest of your life.
The coach I remember most was my quarterback coach in high school. He believed in me, he made me better, and to this day we are friends. However, even as friends, I don’t call him by his first name. Twenty years later, I still call him ‘Coach.’ His title is one of respect. He will always be my coach because I cannot ever look at him without remembering the four years he spent mentoring me and teaching me. A coach can have that effect on their players. Correction. A special coach can have that effect.
A coaching axiom states: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Once they know how much you care, they care about what you know.” Some coaches get this idea; and unfortunately many clearly don’t. Some move from job to job without ever really making a lasting impression or impact on the players they coach. To them, it’s just a job and they’re just coaching different numbers in different color uniforms. However, some coaches are trying to positively affect the lives of the players they coach. Some coaches view their mission as a calling; and use their sport as the vehicle to leave a lasting impression on the lives they cross. One coach that fits this description is Trooper Taylor, the Cornerbacks Coach at Arkansas State University.
Trooper Taylor has coached college football for over 20 years. He has affected the lives of players at Tulane, Tennessee, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and his alma mater, Baylor. He has coached in the biggest of games, including winning a National Championship at Auburn in 2011. Taylor has coached some of the game’s best players, but over the course of his career, two things have remained constant during every stop; he has never tried to be anybody but himself, and everybody who comes in contact with him is drawn towards that personality.
Trooper wears his hat backwards and he approaches his job with a level of energy that many wish could be bottled up and sold to the masses. When you look at the field, it is easy to find Trooper Taylor.
His personality was formed from growing up as 1 of 16 children in his family in the small town of Cuero, Texas. In a family that large the quiet kid doesn’t get noticed; so it is no wonder Trooper developed the gift of gab.
In fact, his coach at Baylor, Grant Teaff remarked, “Trooper never met a word he didn’t like. He was born talking. In fact, that’s how I came to notice him when I was recruiting at his high school. I was there to see this great running back. Next thing I know the coach there tells me to take a look at Trooper, this scrappy, undersized kid who wants a chance to play and get his education. After speaking with him for a moment, I was hooked on his personality and knew I needed to bring him to Baylor. Trooper is one of the finest young men I ever coached. He was such a great person then and he’s one of the best people, and definitely one of the best coaches I know today.”
Coach Teaff continued, “Trooper loves the game of football. He even married his wife at the 50yd line of our field at Baylor. It’s in his blood and it’s who he is which is why he’s a phenomenal coach.”
Childhood hardships, like his Dad passing away when he was 12 years old, forced Taylor to grow up fast. He looked to male adults in his life for guidance and approval. Those people ended up in most cases being his coaches. His coaches became the father figure he had lost and Trooper knew when he became a coach that he wanted to be more to his players than just the guy that told them where to line up.
Taylor explained, “The most important thing was that the men in my life were coaches. I substituted the word father for coach. They are the ones that helped me make the right choices and built my character. The other thing that stood out to me was that they didn’t look like me. They didn’t sound like me. They came from different backgrounds, but they cared about me and my life. That’s when I knew why I wanted to coach. Yes it was because I love the game of football, but really it was because I wanted to change lives in the same way my coaches changed my life. They taught me that blood makes you kin. Love, trust, loyalty and commitment make you family. Coaching for me is growing my family. I don’t care if you’re a five-star guy or a no-star guy; you’re going to be family to me.”
Taylor doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk too with regards to that statement. Trooper has coached some of the biggest names in football; the litany of his former players includes Dez Bryant, Robert Meachem, and Eric Berry; and forged relationships through recruiting and team management for countless others. If you ask any of his players what he means to them beyond the X’s and O’s you’ll find a common response.
Saints’ Wide Receiver, Robert Meachem said, “He was more to me than just a coach. He was my father away from home. He didn’t just talk to me about life on the field with football. He coached me on my life off the field. He guided me through all of the issues college kids go through when you’re young and leaving home. He was a major part of me growing up and maturing as a person.”
St. Louis Rams’ 1st Round Pick, Greg Robinson, echoed Meachem’s sentiments, “Coach Taylor gave me a chance when others wouldn’t. He believed in me and pushed me to be better. That’s why I’m here today. As a coach, on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s a solid 9. I’d give him a 10, but he’d get mad at me because he always tells me everybody has something they can work on to get better. He’s just a great coach, but what he means to me goes beyond the football field. When my father passed away in 2012 he’s been the one who stepped in and has been that father figure for me. I really can’t measure the impact he’s had on my life.”
When Kansas City Chiefs’ star, Eric Berry, was diagnosed with lymphoma, one of the first people he heard from after the diagnosis was Trooper Taylor. “Coach Taylor has always been there for me. He’s a guy I know I can always depend on and have in my corner. He’s always been more than a coach to me.”
The connection that Taylor makes to his players is evident to all around him. You can see it in practice with his position group. Fans can see it on the sidelines during games and his fellow coaches can see it too every day around the football offices and on the practice field.
His current Head Coach, Blake Anderson, remarked, “It really is unlike anything I’ve seen before. All of us here have great relationships with our players. But with Trooper, it’s just different. His personality is so unique and I think part of that is the fact that he had 15 brothers and sisters. He’s been used to being around a lot of people his entire life and you can see that with how he is with our guys and on the recruiting trail. He really has a passion for getting to know the lives of all of our players, not just the guys in his position group. The other part people don’t realize is that you may see him having fun with his guys a lot, but he is also the first one to demand a certain discipline and level accountability with his guys too. He balances that well in a way that really causes his guys to gravitate towards him.”
Coach Teaff, who has been the Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association for the last 20 years added, “He’s just such a great communicator and he has such a big heart. No question he means more to his players than the typical coach.”
His former head coach at Auburn, Gene Chizik, echoed those comments, “People who really know him, know and understand that he has one of the biggest hearts you’ll ever meet. His #1 goal is to help these young men and be a role model for them. He is their coach, their mentor, their disciplinarian, their sounding-board, just anything they need. There aren’t many coaches out there that you can truly say gets involved in every facet of his players’ lives. That’s why they all love Trooper because they know he genuinely cares about them as people, not just as players.”
Consistently, Trooper Taylor is considered that special kind of coach that impacts the player’s entire life, on and off the field. But make no mistake about it, beyond the personal side of coaching; Taylor is in high demand for his skills on the field and on the recruiting trail. His position groups consistently perform and rank well nationally and he has been recognized as one of the Top 25 recruiters in the nation on six different occasions.
Anderson explained why he brought Taylor to Arkansas State, “The reasons he is here are plenty. First, he’s been a close friend of mine since college and he’s like family so I trust him as a coach and I trust him as a person. He’s a great family guy, he’s a great Christian guy, and he’s the best recruiter I have ever been around. Trooper is also a great ball coach and develops his players well. Everywhere he has been his players have performed at a high level. My goal was to bring coaches to Arkansas State that are not only great people, but are top-notch coaches that are second-to-none. Trooper most definitely fits that description. The energy he brings to the program is hard to match. Quite honestly, I always knew I was going to call him to come work with me when I got the chance to be a head coach. The real question was always going to be, ‘Was this going to be a situation that worked for him?’ Thankfully it was, and we’ve benefited from it since the word go.”
Coach Chizik, with whom Taylor won a National Championship with, added, “One example of how he’s proven himself as a coach is the fact he has now coached on both sides of the ball at a high level. So to be able to have that level of knowledge about the game is impressive and not many people can do that well. Then you add in the fact that he is one of the best recruiters in the country, and he is a coach with the total package.”
With regards to recruiting, he explained, “What Trooper does in recruiting that gives him an edge is the fact that he out-thinks the other guy. He’s a critical thinker that analyzes each individual situation and figures out exactly how to approach the recruit, how to approach the family, and how to connect with them better than anybody else. It’s that simple. Trooper out thinks the competition and out works the competition.”
Everywhere Taylor has coached he’s developed players into having outstanding college careers, with many of them moving on to careers in the NFL. Taylor’s former players give him a lot of credit for pushing them to reach their goals and reach that next level.
Meachem explained, “In terms of my football career, he was the coach that brought the best out of me in my later years in college. He pushed me to points where I didn’t think I could give any more, but because of his pushing I reached new heights. His energy brings the best out of everybody. I remember him talking trash to DBs before practice to get them riled up. Then he would challenge us to beat them. As a result, you had very competitive practices. He did that and it brought the best out in all of us. Coach Taylor coaches everybody, from the walk-on to the star player. He treats everybody equal. He would punish you if you were wrong and he would be the first one to celebrate you when you did well.”
Taylor’s coaching abilities have put him on the sidelines of big-time programs, reaching the pinnacle in coaching by winning the National Championship at Auburn in 2011. After his tenure at Auburn ended, Taylor was offered numerous jobs at other big-time schools. While they were tempting, he knew this was a moment in his life where it was time to reevaluate what his priorities were for him and his family. Up until this point he was a tireless worker that did everything he could to be the best coach he could be. That included moving his family around like most coaches do and burning the candle at both ends by working long hours every day during and after the season. He really felt he had sacrificed getting to know his family in pursuit of what he thought would be best for them.
Looking back, he explained, “My parents raised all of us with the goal that they wanted a better life for us, and they knew this could be realized through hard work. So that work ethic and drive to provide a better life was embedded in my soul. I’ve been to so many places before where I was told it was going to be faith, family, football, but in reality it was football, football, football. I sacrificed so much time with my family because that’s what I thought was normal. My father worked multiple jobs and was never really around because of him working so much. So to me, being gone at work was what I thought was normal. It was all I knew.”
So instead of leaping into the next big job he was offered, Taylor took a step back and decided to take the year off from coaching college football. He decided it was time to reconnect with the most important players in his life, his family.
During his time away from college football, Taylor was able to spend time with his kids and his wife in ways he hadn’t done earlier in his career. He could take the dog for a walk with his wife. He could get to know his daughter as he drove her to school every day and go see her play basketball. The family all went to church together every Sunday.
According to him, “I finally got to do normal people activities. Instead of chasing down my work goals, I got to chase down my family goals. I got to know my kids in a way I didn’t know was missing until I was able to just give them my full attention. It’s a year I’ll never forget.”
Taylor got to spend more time with his son, Blaise, as well. The time spent with Blaise is what allowed Taylor to stay connected to football. He volunteered as a coach at his son’s high school and just focused on helping players get better. No pressure, no long hours, and all the chances he wanted to see his son play football every day. He found himself in a life that was more fulfilling than any paycheck or any championship could provide him. Taylor was able to find his family again, and more importantly, they were able to find him too.
After a year away from college football, Taylor knew his next job would have to be different in what it offered. As fate would have it, that’s exactly what Blake Anderson was offering when he was on the other end of that phone call offering Taylor an opportunity to join his staff at Arkansas State University.
Taylor explained, “My life before was football, football, football. My relationship with my family was an electronic relationship, meaning I got to interact with them over text message or video calls because I was always working and not at home. I missed birthdays. I missed holidays. Blake promised to make this job the best working situation I’ve ever had with regards to family. He’s lived up to that promise. We work hard but we don’t forget family. We don’t forget faith as he’s integrated FCA in a big way. Our offices are open to our families during the day. Eating lunch with your wife may seem like a small deal, but it just doesn’t happen at other places. I get to see my daughter play basketball. The family aspect is present there too because when I’m at those games I look next to me and Blake is there with his wife, Coach Cauthen is there, Coach Early is there, and Coach Johnson is there. That’s family. I didn’t ask them to come; they asked me because they care. These guys are spending their free time to take an interest in my daughter. That doesn’t happen in our world, but it happens here. Every player, the five-star and the no-star has been at Blake’s house. It’s proof that he is living his promise to us and the players. Faith, Family, and Football. That’s why I’m here. That trumps money. I love this community, this administration, and the coaches on this staff. You just can’t put a monetary value on these things. If you do what you love to do, life will be good. Life is good at Arkansas State for me and my family.”
As it has turned out, everything Anderson promised came true. Taylor still works as hard as he did at previous coaching stops, but now he also has a focus on family activities that he couldn’t do at previous stops. He gets to see his daughter, a highly-recruited basketball player in Arkansas, play her games on a regular basis. He gets to see his son every day at work as Blaise just completed a successful freshman season for the Red Wolves. At one point this season, in a game against Appalachian State, Blaise returned a punt for a touchdown. Any father would be excited and proud of the play, but Taylor got to experience it on the sidelines, with his son. He looked at Anderson and said, “Man, thank you for bringing me here brother. It was worth it just to witness that moment.” Arkansas State has been the right job at the right time for Taylor and his family.
After a successful first year in Jonesboro, Coach Taylor’s coaching and recruiting talents were highly-sought after once again. During this most recent coaching carousel cycle, big programs from the likes of the SEC and the Big 12 came calling. He has politely declined for the reasons explained about why he is in the right place at the right time for both him and his family.
However, as Coach Teaff touched on as well, rumors like to swirl in coaching circles and not always with good intent. Some college football insiders and even other coaches have wondered why Taylor hasn’t landed at a Power 5 program. Many observers from outside Coach Taylor’s inner circle have hinted that maybe the reason Taylor is not at a major program is due to lingering questions regarding alleged NCAA rules’ violations during his time at Auburn. For the record, the NCAA has never determined that Taylor violated its rules and the officials at Auburn recommended hiring Coach Taylor without reservation. In fact, it’s surprising that this thought is still out there considering he is currently employed by an FBS school. In order to hire anybody, schools like Arkansas State have to fully investigate every coach’s background and get them cleared by the NCAA before hiring them onto their staff. Arkansas State did their due diligence and found nothing from the NCAA that would prevent them from hiring Taylor. As you would expect, Taylor is not on an island in this and has the support of people whose integrity couldn’t be higher.
One of those people is Coach Teaff, who commented, “Again, Trooper is a great communicator. He’s never met a person he couldn’t become friends with; which is why he is such a top-notch recruiter. That’s why he was so successful on the recruiting trail because everybody he meets is drawn to him. Unfortunately, in our business if you’re that good in recruiting well then you must be cheating. The egos in our profession won’t accept the fact that he just beat them straight up on a consistent basis. Well, he did, and he always will because of his ability to connect with people. He is one of the finest recruiters in the country, period. And I stand behind Trooper 100%.”
The man who has been the director of the American Football Coaches Association publicly standing behind Trooper Taylor is telling and cannot be overstated. But Coach Teaff isn’t the only one standing behind Taylor. The Auburn University Director of Compliance unequivocally dispels rumors about Trooper’s recruiting methods and Auburn Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, speaks glowingly of Coach Taylor’s coaching tenure at Auburn. The rumors about Trooper are just that, rumors.
Coach Anderson adds this about his character, “What people don’t understand is that behind that excitable, energetic guy you see on the sidelines is just a genuinely great human being. He only wants the best for his players and those around him in the program. His character and his integrity are two of the main reasons I brought him here.”
“Here” is Jonesboro, Arkansas. Jonesboro has been a fresh start for Trooper and the Taylor family. It’s an environment that has allowed him to balance coaching with reconnecting with his family and enjoying time with them like never before. “Here” is coaching for the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Coaches and players alike in the Arkansas State program have benefitted from Trooper’s presence on the staff and in the locker room. Whether they are in his position group or not, players will tell you he wants to help you any way he can. And “here” you will find a man that has changed the lives of his players and those around him for the better, which he plans to keep on doing every day he steps on the field. “Here” you will find that special kind of coach.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to Coach Taylor for setting aside the time for this interview. You can follow him on Twitter @AstAteTrooper.
This article was originally written by Jeff Greenberg and published via www.sports-glutton.com. Images are courtesy of http://www.sports-glutton.com.
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