Troy Taylor knew he was ready for a new challenge, but wasn’t outwardly pursuing a job coaching college football when he received a call from Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin last year.
Baldwin was looking for a new offensive playcaller and was encouraged by Washington coach Chris Petersen to give Taylor a look. As a coach at Folsom High School in Northern California, Taylor engineered some of the most prolific offenses in the history of high school football and through the recruitment of quarterback Jake Browning, Petersen got to know Taylor well.
Petersen didn’t wait to see if Taylor was interested in the job at Eastern Washington before pitching him to Baldwin.
“He just called the head coach, Beau Baldwin, and recommended me and said, ‘Hey, this is a guy you should talk to and go after,’” Taylor said.
It didn’t take long for Taylor to be convinced it was a good fit and his first year at Eastern proved Petersen’s suspicion to be true: the offense Taylor had been tweaking for several years at the high school level translated well in college. The pass-heavy system was developed to stretch opposing defenses sideline-to-sideline and relies heavily on the quarterback to make plays. Eagles quarterback Gage Gubrud set an FCS single-season record with 5,160 yards passing and the team ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense (529.6 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring (42.4 points per game). Gubrud also led the team with 606 yards rushing.
Taylor wasn’t looking to move on, but, again, the phone rang with an opportunity too good to pass up. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wanted Taylor to run his system in Salt Lake City. Whittingham monitored what Taylor did at Folsom and came away impressed with how seamlessly Taylor installed his offense at Eastern.
“He achieved the same results at Eastern Washington and we are fortunate that Troy was interested in bringing that style here to Utah,” Whittingham said.
Added Taylor: “I think if you’re a competitive person, you’re always striving for the next challenge. I definitely think that’s part of it. Now, taking it to the Pac-12 will be fun.”
Whittingham has assured Taylor that he will have the autonomy to do things his way, which for Taylor starts with evaluating and developing the quarterbacks. Starter Troy Williams, who coincidentally started his career at Washington, had an up-and-down junior year after transferring from Santa Monica College. He threw for 2,757 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while completing just 53.1 percent of his passes. Williams should receive a real challenge from rising sophomore Tyler Huntley for the starting job. Huntley played sparingly as a true freshman, but saw his most extensive playing time in Utah’s win against Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Taylor’s association with Browning may give the impression that his pocket-style attributes are what Taylor desires most in a quarterback, but over the years Browning, in terms of style, has been an outlier. Before Browning set the world on fire at Folsom, Taylor worked with another quarterback, Dano Graves, who was named the MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year in 2010. This past year, Graves was the starting quarterback at Cal Poly, an FCS school which runs the triple-option.
“I learned to coach at the high school level because you get what you get and have to develop it,” Taylor said. “We were able to take the guys we had and develop them and build the system around them. The system is what it is, but it’s flexible in terms of being able to have a drop-back quarterback like Jake Browning or more of a dual-threat.”
This won’t be Taylor's first foray into coaching in what is now the Pac-12. The former Cal quarterback and fourth-round pick of the New York Jets in 1990 spent four years as an assistant at his alma mater -- first under Steve Mariucci, then current BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. Shortly after getting married, however, he and his wife decided they wanted to move to the Sacramento area and start a family. At that phase of their lives, the lifestyle that comes with being a college coach didn’t appeal, but now that their three kids are older -- between the ages of 8 and 15 -- that is less of a concern.
As an assistant at Cal, he studied Bill Walsh’s system and named Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Washington State’s Mike Leach, former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and Petersen as other big influences on his offensive philosophy.
For Whittingham, the hope is that he will finally have some offensive stability. There has been a change at the offensive coordinator role in nine of the past 10 years at Utah, but this change might be the most intriguing.