Embracing a New Role

Embracing a New Role

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Jason Taylor knows he’s maybe taken an unconventional path.

He’s aware most of his peers don’t spend hours on the recruiting trail or running defensive line drills in the sweltering South Florida heat when they could be relaxing or otherwise enjoying the perks that come with being a retired legend and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But these days, that’s exactly what Taylor is doing – recruiting, running drills, coaching.

The former Miami Dolphins great is just weeks into his new role as a defensive line coach for the Hurricanes and already, Taylor is embracing the opportunity – and responsibility – he’s been given after spending last season as a defensive analyst at Miami.

“It’s nice to be back on the grass and officially coaching and [helping] develop kids and impact kids – young men at this point,” Taylor said after one of the Hurricanes’ 14 practices this spring. “It’s been great.”

Taylor, of course, is no newcomer to coaching – or Miami.

Last season, as an analyst for head coach Mario Cristobal, he sat in on meetings with the Hurricanes, happily answering questions and providing guidance to both coaches and players.

He broke down film and studied the opponents the Hurricanes faced every week. But he wasn’t an on-field coach, the way he’d been at Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School previously, nor was he able to do the kind of physical teaching he is doing today.

That chance to now teach a new generation of players the game he loves is something Taylor – a 15-year NFL veteran, six-time Pro Bowler and the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year – does not take lightly.

“I’m all about coaching them hard and loving them harder,” Taylor said. “You know, we have a standard. You’ve got to clearly define the boundaries, the lines, what you expect, the standard of work, the standard of expectations; clearly define what the job is, what they have to do and how we’re going to do it.

“And then I’m really big on why we do it that way. Teaching kids or teaching players why we’re doing it that way, why we’re doing something, why we’re calling a certain call and what situation we’re trying to do that [in]; why it’s important we need to get to the A gap on a certain player, why we’re dropping to the boundary, why we have to be out there in the flat and how we do it. Not just telling them what to do, but explain that full picture, make them a better football player…We’re going to lay it all out, be very clearly defined.”

It hasn’t taken Taylor long to make an impression on the field.

While most of the veteran Hurricanes had the chance to start getting to know him last season, some of the newer faces on Miami’s roster are excited to be soaking up every bit of knowledge Taylor can impart.

“You can go to him with any question and mine times out of ten, he’s got the answer,” said defensive lineman Branson Deen, a transfer who earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition at Purdue last year. “If he doesn’t, he’ll find it. He brings a lot of energy, and he has us well trained, too. It’s really amazing. I can’t wait to keep learning from him.”

Even those Hurricanes who were a part of the program last season and worked with Taylor in his former role are excited to now have the chance to be coached by him on the field.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” said sophomore defensive lineman Nyjalik Kelly. “Hand placement, ball get-off, tricks to move faster, tricks to get off the bend. He’s taught me a lot.”

Added fellow lineman Akheem Mesidor, “Having him come back is great for our d-line. I love working with him.”

Miami’s players aren’t the only ones excited to have Taylor on the field this season.

Associate head coach and fellow defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said having Taylor join the coaching staff has been a boon for all of the Hurricanes, including Miami’s coaches.

“We’re like-minded. We’ve been coached old school, so our teaching is no different. It’s the same token. It’s really [about] engaging rapport with our guys. In the meetings, we’re asking questions, putting those guys in a position where they’re regurgitating back the information. That’s what it comes down to,” Salave’a said. “But as far as working with coach Jason Taylor, it’s been awesome. It’s fun. You don’t get to wake up every day and a guy that’s put in the work, his journey, earned everything that he’s got, we’re both in the same situation. I wasn’t a gifted athlete coming out, but put in the hard work and were blessed to have great mentors and that’s what we’re trying to get done here. We’re trying to mentor young men.”

For Taylor, a father of four, that mentoring is as crucial as teaching the game – especially since his two oldest sons are college football players themselves.

Taylor watched both navigate the recruiting process during their high school days at St. Thomas before Isaiah, a safety, landed at Arizona and Mason, a tight end, chose to play at LSU.

Seeing their experiences has only reinforced in him the kind of impact he wants to have on the Hurricanes on and off the field.

“We’re going to coach the heck out of them. We’re going to coach them hard, and we’re going to push and demand and push and demand and push and demand and then we’re going to love them even more,” Taylor said. “And we’re going to have fun doing it. So, you might see me screaming one second and then laughing and smiling…It’s just the way we do it. We’re going to push and push and push and push and we’re going to have a great time doing it.

“They’ve got four years to do this, five years at best, to enjoy a lifetime dream, a lifelong dream. I’m not going to be that person that wastes a day of their dream messing around. They might waste one, but I’m not going to waste one and I’m not going to let them waste one.”