I stood for a moment and took a deep breath. I had never actually interviewed for a job in my life. I was 21, wouldn’t graduate from college until the following week, had driven five hundred miles for this meeting and somehow sensed the next few minutes could be life changing for me. My feet were out-racing my brain as I moved toward the big man watching a P.E. class run across the field.
He stood as I neared and extended a hand. “You must be the young man Walter told me about.” My goodness, his handshake was like a vise! But his smile moved across his whole face. We talked for over an hour as one class was dismissed and another hurried unto the field. He asked very few questions, mostly about my life and family. But he leaned in just enough on the answers for me to realize he was not going through the motions here. He was interested in me. His sincerity was real. I didn’t need that college education to know this guy was as genuine as they come.
He was excited about the “young men” coming back for the 1969 football season. He thought his center and quarterback were of excellent character. The offensive line was going to be the best he had since returning to Port St. Joe. We had one very good defensive end and linebackers that would “run to the ball”. We have a chance to win a lot of football games this year. He said “we” like I was already on the team.
Wayne Taylor was the first person ever to call me “Coach”.
I was particularly struck by his forthrightness, his passion for life and his obvious love for the young men under his charge. The pride he had in the school, the sports programs and the community itself came through in every sentence. He made it seem like more of a “calling” than a “job”.
His eyes lit up when he walked me back to my car—and realized I’d driven down in a 1963 Corvair Monza. I felt like I’d come in “on a wing and a prayer”. That car smoked and coughed most of the five hundred miles. Coach Taylor was going over that thing like it was a Ferrari or something! I’m not sure till this day if he hired me for my potential or he just liked my car.
I was near ’bout back to Birmingham when it dawned on me. He didn’t ask one question about football. He hadn’t sought out my thoughts on the “veer offense” versus the “power I”. We didn’t talk “balanced attack” or a “split middle” defensive set. He seemed more interested in young men than pass routes or blocking assignments. I could still feel the goodbye handshake and his direct gaze as he offered me the job and wished me well no matter what I decided.
Halfway through the first week of practice Coach Taylor became upset because the scout team fullback wouldn’t give his linebackers the correct look by barreling into the off-tackle hole. He turned his hat around backwards, took the fullback’s place and blasted into the appropriate lane. You can bet the entire practice revved up a few notches! And I learned real football coaching wasn’t as much about x’s and o’s as some people imagined.
“We” won the first 10 games of the season. I contributed nothing. As a matter of fact, I was a detriment at times. Coach Taylor had to do his duties and then coach me up a little as to the specific techniques he wanted me to instill with my group the next day. He never lost patience. He never quit teaching me……or the team.
I just thought I had a work ethic. We watched films of opposing teams until my eyes bled! We stayed on the field until he was satisfied. We’d spend hours going over the next day’s practice schedule. He was the most detailed man I ever met. He didn’t want the right guard to simply run over and block the play side tackle on “quick 30 trap”. He demanded that guard take a carefully measured 45 degree step with his inside foot into the line of scrimmage, pick up the target immediately, cross over with his back foot, avoiding the center and gaining speed with the next two steps before sticking his head in front and “unloading” his right shoulder into the mid-section of the unsuspecting defensive man. The “thing about the thing” he would say “is in the details”. “Coach,” he always looked right at you when he spoke, “we’ve got to get these young men to lead with their chins.”……..pretty good advice whether you are tackling fleet running backs…….or life.
Winning was important with him. I stood in awe sometimes as we beat teams that we shouldn’t have even been on the field with. He out-coached opponents. He could have so many times taken either team, practiced for a week and beat the other guys. But it was never about winning. There is a big difference! Even the undefeated season and state championship didn’t overshadow the players. It was always about the young men. He demanded that each individual be the best he could be……it went way beyond the football field for Coach Taylor. He understood the ups and downs of life. He knew what lay ahead for many of his guys. He used those Exer-Genies and “two a day” practices to get’em ready for Wewa, Blountstown, Chipley…….and the next fifty years!
In the later days, when the coaching was over, I never heard him one time refer to a score or beating someone. He was talking about the young men and how well so many of them turned out. If he had a clue that he might have helped in so many lives, including mine, he never relayed it to me.
I think that is the way the great ones operate.
I was so glad to see so many of the “young men” back for Coach’s funeral. A few got up and spoke, rightly recognizing Coach Taylor for his mentorship, guidance and love for them. I guarantee you, a thousand more “Sharks” in all walks of life echoed those same sentiments when they learned of his passing.
He didn’t take the high road on honesty, integrity and moral principles when it was convenient or easy…….He lived on it!
The last time we went off to play golf I tried to thank him for all he had done for me, my family, my career……. He waved it off as nothing and then, as that wonderful grin spread across his face, said, “You know Coach, you are not like most politicians.”
High praise indeed from the man I respected above all others.