Lance Taylor will replace outgoing Irish legend Autry Denson as the new Notre Dame running backs coach, per multiple news reports. There’s no official confirmation from the university yet (thanks O’Leary!), but if Taylor’s Twitter header photo is any indication there’s nothing to worry about on that front. No doubt one of the major attractions for Brian Kelly was Taylor’s history at Stanford (more on that in a bit), but even aside from that there’s plenty to like in his background.
- Taylor’s father James did not sing beloved blues and folk songs, but rather played at Alabama for Bear Bryant in the 70’s. A proud Choctaw tribal citizen, he arrived on campus just eight years after Governor George Wallace fought the desegregation of the university. One can only imagine.
- Lance followed in his father’s footsteps when he enrolled at Alabama in 1999 and walked on to Mike DuBose’s Tide squad as an undersized wide receiver. He eventually earned a scholarship and played in 38 consecutive games to end his career, serving as a special teams captain for Mike Shula in his senior season.
- Taylor kicked around the Arena League for a few years as a player before returning to his alma mater to start his coaching career, where he was a GA on Nick Saban’s first Tuscaloosa staff.
- He was hired as Appalachian State’s WR coach in 2009, a year in which the Mountaineers set school records in receptions and receiving yards, won their conference, and advanced to the national semifinals.
- He was on Rex Ryan’s New York Jets staff from 2010 to 2012, moving from an intern to an offensive quality control assistant to an assistant TE coach.
- Ron Rivera then nabbed him to be an assistant WR coach in Carolina for the 2013 season.
- From 2014 to 2016 he was Stanford’s RB coach, which was his first full-fledged position coaching role. We’ll dig into that separately below because it’s definitely worthwhile.
- Rivera hired him back in 2017 as the Panthers’ WR coach. After a disappointing 2018 season across the board, Taylor was one of the rumored impending changes a few weeks ago. That’s a bit curious as the Panthers’ young WRs actually developed pretty well last year, so who knows what the motivating factor was there. Did Rivera want a fresh voice? Did Taylor want to step away from the NFL grind? Maybe both sides just wanted a fresh start? Is it possible that Notre Dame was already making quiet inquiries back then?
Can He Recruit?
Now, with the CV out of the way, back to Stanford… Yes, to a notable degree, Stanford recruits itself. Even so, Taylor recruited some very talented kids who had to travel a long way and had other options. Not surprisingly, the Alabama native’s recruiting territory was the Southeast; here are the most notable recruits he was primarily responsible for at Stanford:
- OL Clark Yarbrough, #193 overall, Woodberry Forest, VA (same school as Doug Randolph, CJ Prosise, and Greer Martini); notable offers included Arizona State, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee
- SDE Ryan Johnson, #222 overall, Mobile, AL; notable offers included Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas, USC
- QB Jack West, #225 overall, Saraland, AL; notable offers included Alabama (which had all six of the 247 crystal balls that had been entered for him), Auburn, Michigan, Texas A&M, UCLA, USC
- RB Bryce Love, #227 overall, Wake Forest, NC; notable offers included Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee
- WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside, #605 overall, Roebuck, SC; notable offers included Georgia Tech, Maryland, Michigan State; also had interest but no offer from Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee
He didn’t exactly have to beat the big guys for JJ, but those other guys are all really solid pulls against real competition. I definitely remember Johnson warming up to the Cardinal very quickly during that recruiting cycle; it felt like we would have shot and then poof, he was gone. Alabama definitely wanted him too, as evidenced by then-DC Jeremy Pruitt being his primary recruiter. By all accounts Taylor is a hard worker who kids respect and trust, so I think he’ll be an asset on the recruiting trail for the Irish as well. First up, we’ll see what kind of impression he can make on 2020 5* RB Chris Tyree, who has Chip Long’s attention and has already expressed real interest in Notre Dame.
Can He Coach?
There’s also that small matter of whether a particular football coach can actually, you know, coach football. Taylor’s track record there is pretty good too. In his first year at Stanford, the Tree ran for 158.8 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry. Meh, right? In his second year though, that ballooned to 223.7 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. In his third year the per-game average dropped to a still very good 208.9 yards and the per-carry average ticked up to 5.2 yards. The advanced stats record is similarly impressive; Stanford ranked 61st in S&P+ rush offense in 2014, 21st in 2015, and 22nd in 2016.
In his recent Carolina stint, Taylor oversaw marked improvement in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel in 2018. Both emerged as legitimate front-line players, Moore as a rookie and Samuel as a soph after a non-factor rookie season. It’s hard to know how much of his success at previous stops is attributable directly to him, as he’s only been a full position coach since 2014; still, there’s plenty there to believe that he’ll get good production out of the Irish backfield.