Shortly after the Bengals revealed they mutually parted ways with head coach Marvin Lewis, the team announced they would be interviewing a few in-house coaches. Bill Lazor, Darrin Simmons and Hue Jackson make up the list, and none of those names inspire any confidence towards an eager fan base.
But Zac Taylor might.
Taylor was the first coach not already employed by the Bengals that was requested for an interview by the organization. Let’s examine who Taylor is, where he comes from, and why he’d be a good choice to take over for Lewis.
At just 35 years of age, Taylor is a former quarterback who played college ball at Nebraska, where he was the 2006 Big 12 Player of the Year. Originally a junior college transfer, Taylor put up prolific numbers in the two seasons he started with the Cornhuskers following a transfer from Wake Forest after coming up from Butler County CC (KA), but his professional career wasn’t nearly as illustrious. The Buccaneers brought him as an undrafted free agent, but he was waived shortly after and ended up playing in the CFL for a season before officially beginning his coaching career.
In 10 years, he’s worked his way up through the college and professional ranks and now is a key assistant to one of the best teams in the NFL.
- 2008-2011: Texas A&M (Graduate Assistant)
- 2012: Miami Dolphins (Assistant QB Coach)
- 2013-2014: Miami Dolphins (QB Coach)
- 2015: Miami Dolphins (QB Coach/Interim Offensive Coordinator)
- 2016: University of Cincinnati (Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach)
- 2017: Los Angeles Rams (Assistant WR Coach)
- 2018-present: Los Angeles Rams (QB Coach)
Why he could work
Everyone’s looking for the next Sean McVay, so why not go directly to the source? Taylor’s career path doesn’t quite match his current head coach’s, but spending the last two seasons working working under the game’s brightest young mind certainly helps his case.
Truth be told, the McVay hire wasn’t revered as much as it should’ve been at the time. McVay was just a 30-year old offensive coordinator of three seasons for a team headed by quarterback Kirk Cousins. His extensive knowledge and acumen of the game wasn’t advertised as it is nowadays because no one knew who he was.
McVay’s success is one of the main reasons why you don’t have to bring in a coach with a lucrative resume, but not every hire similar to McVay will be as prosperous. So it definitely helps when you get this endorsement:
”He’s instrumental in our third-down game-planning.” McVay said of Taylor in an interview with The MMQB. “And he doesn’t just agree with everything, he challenges you but in a way that’s very welcoming. Sometimes in the NFL disagreements can be uncomfortable in a staff meeting, but not here. There’s a refreshing security that Zac has in himself. He has great emotional intelligence and awareness for how to communicate in a way that makes peoples’ guards go down. That’s a great trait for a coach to have.”
So yes, you may not have heard of Taylor’s name before this week, but that’s far from a bad thing. The NFL has long passed around the same old faces at head coach, and many of those teams end up searching for a new one soon after. The Bengals could use some literal young blood to lead them into a new era.
Why he may not be the guy
Of course all the reasoning listed above has a clear and obvious flip side: what if his inexperience proves to be his downfall?
At the professional level, Taylor has just five games of play-calling experience. He took over that responsibility with the Dolphins when they fired their offensive coordinator, none other than Bill Lazor, in the middle of the 2015 season.
Taylor left Miami that offseason to call plays for the University of Cincinnati as the Bearcats’ offensive coordinator for their 2016 season. Cincinnati finished 4-8 that year, but Taylor didn’t exactly have the best talent to work with. Plus, head coach Tommy Tuberville wasn’t exactly the most competent man at his job either.
Nevertheless, Taylor found his way back in the NFL with McVay’s initial staff in 2017, but he obviously doesn’t call plays or have the power of being an offensive coordinator. Sure he aids McVay in crucial in-game situations, but at the end of the day, he’s not calling the shots. Giving him that authority without him truly proving himself as an offensive coordinator full-time is a risk, and while it may be one worth taking, it’s a risk all the same.
There are more seasoned candidates than Taylor, but experience can’t be the underlying quality that the Bengals look for in their next head coach. Taylor has worked closely with a pair of young quarterbacks in Ryan Tannehill and Jared Goff and has seen each take notable leaps in their development under his tutelage. His influence in the Rams’ explosive offense and McVay’s overall game-planning is impressive for what his title implies on the surface, and it’s hard to dismiss McVay’s high praise for him.
Sooner or later, the rest of the NFL is going to try and replicate the offensive success the Rams have had in recent years. The Bengals taking a leap of faith in Taylor to achieve that is as solid a plan as any.