College Sports

How 8 football coaches in one house helped start a season of promise at Sac State

Troy Taylor hit the ground running in December.

He was hired as Sacramento State 11th football coach, a fresh voice for a new era. Taylor was signed to a seven-year deal, leading athletic director Mark Orr to say, “He’s the perfect fit. We’ve handed him the keys to get this thing going.”

In quick order, Taylor sought out a staff, then hit the recruiting trail in a blur in what he called a “torrid pace.”

Oh, and there was this matter of living. Speaking of house keys, who has them?

Where do a collection of coaches from near and far crash when they’re still getting to know each other and their roster and the region with much work to be done?”

Hello, crunch of humanity and Animal House.

An army of Sac State coaches piled into a three-bedroom home for months, the floor a mine field of laundry, pizza boxes, water bottles, laptops, play books and various other debris. It was not a place to take your wife, or, heavens, your mother.

The universal language was football. The motto was to rebuild and reboot the Hornets.

“The record was eight guys in that house,” Taylor said after practice Wednesday, laughing. “It looked like a shelter. Walk in, no furniture. At one point, point (defensive coordinator) Andy Thompson was sleeping in the kitchen. His head was right next to the stove.

“But we got to know each other pretty well. That was the great thing. I just don’t think I want to do it again.”

Home is where the heart is, and Taylor is back in familiar turf.

He and wife Tracey have their own house keys now, living some five minutes from Sac State’s J-Street campus.

Taylor was a household name in 1985 when he quarterbacked Cordova High School to the section’s first 14-0 season. He earned Sacramento Bee Player of the Year honors as a duel-threat star.

Taylor set career passing marks at Cal and had a brief stint in the NFL. Then he got into coaching, bouncing from Cal to various high schools before settling in at Folsom, including a magical co-coaching stint with Kris Richardson at Folsom earlier this decade, peeling off a 58-3 record and state championships. Richardson is one of four Folsom coaches Taylor hired to his staff.

Taylor was scooped up by Eastern Washington of the Big Sky Conference to call plays, selling a house he and his family loved to work for a third of the pay he earned at Folsom. Then Taylor landed at Utah of the Pac-12 as offensive coordinator, where the pay and housing had the Taylors thinking long-term.

Sac State president Robert S. Nelsen zeroed in on Taylor during Big Sky Conference meetings last winter when others told him it was a long shot. He got his man and said at Taylor’s introductory news conference, “This is a monumental day for us.”

The Hornets went 2-8 last season, undone by injuries and a Big Sky schedule that piled on touchdowns over a depleted and dejected defense. The opener is Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. against Southern Oregon at Hornet Stadium with the immediate goal of improvement and entertainment.

The Hornets return three-year starting quarterback Kevin Thomson and 1,100-yard rusher Elijah Dotson, a local product out of Antelope High and a preseason All-American. Sac State will push the ball in an effort to tax defenses. It’s a Taylor staple.

“Playing fast is an advantage if we execute,” Taylor said. “Playing fast and not executing is not an advantage.”

The defense is anchored by cornerback Caelan Barnes, a team captain and an Antelope High graduate. The offensive line is the most experienced group of the roster with Nick Bianco, Wyatt Ming and Thomas Parker combining for 58 career starts. Richardson is their position coach.

Players mirror the enthusiasm of their coaches. Practice sessions are up-tempo. Everyone is doing something all of the time. Only the golf cart and the old cannon by the fence are idle.

“Everyone’s fired up to get started,” said Thomson, the quarterback. “The new staff has made an impact. I’m open to new things. We all are. It’s always good to have your mind challenged.”

Said Barnes, “The coaches have great pedigree. They know what a practice is supposed to be about, what it looks like. All we have to do is buy in, and we have. We want to build something here.”

Taylor’s recruiting pitch starts Saturday. Home games will be televised on Channel 31. Prospects will be able to see what the Hornets are all about.

“When I hired coaches, I was looking for guys who are positive, upbeat and believe in possibilities, and guys who are really competitive and super bright,” Taylor said. He added that coaching with positive reinforcement reaps more rewards than brow beating players.

“One thing we want to do is let our players know we care about them,” he said. “You can push them a little more if they know you care, and we’ll love them up, too. The bottom line is we want them to enjoy this. The first goal here is to graduate. That’s why they’re here. The second goal is to have a great experience, play great football and have fun doing it, and hopefully that’ll spill into the community.”

As for the sort of player he has now and will have in the future, Taylor said, “I don’t want to beg someone into coming to Sacramento State. I want them to feel the vibe when they get here. If you don’t love being here and don’t love football, you’re not going to fit here.”

Taylor was beaming at practice. He encourages his position coaches to coach their guys hard, to be their own man, though no one questions who is in charge here.

“For me, practice is like game day, and that’s the way I’ve always looked at it,” Taylor said. “I love every day I come out here. I can’t believe I get paid to do this. I’m excited to see the guys play.”