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Steven M. Sipple: As Martinez eyes future as coach, he may want to check out the guy in Cincy
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

Steven M. Sipple: As Martinez eyes future as coach, he may want to check out the guy in Cincy

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Bengals Football

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor looks on during Tuesday's practice in Cincinnati.

Adrian Martinez probably doesn't need my advice on anything, unless he's looking for decent truck-stop diners in the area.

But he certainly could learn from Zac Taylor. After all, Martinez wants someday to be a coach. So it might make sense for him to take some degree of interest in the career of Taylor, the former Nebraska quarterback who in February took over as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals — his first head coaching gig at any level.

Martinez, the talented Nebraska sophomore quarterback, crossed my mind Saturday as I caught up with Taylor, especially the part of our conversation when Zac made it clear that playing QB for the Huskers helped prepare him for his current role.

"There's no question," he said. "You're talking about being in the spotlight and handling the criticism. When you go through interviews (with NFL teams), people ask you how you'll go about handling the community always knowing who you are and the pressure that puts on you. I feel like I've been through all that for the two years I was in Lincoln.

"I really do think playing for Nebraska prepares you for life as a coach."

The 2006 Big 12 offensive player of the year, Taylor is the type of person toward whom people gravitate. Leading seems to come naturally for him — and let's be clear, leadership can be complex. I'm guessing he pulls it off because he's extremely intelligent, reliable, grounded and respectful to everyone he encounters.

When he asks you how you're doing, he seems genuinely interested in your answer.

That's my read, anyway. I've known Zac pretty well since covering him at dear ol' NU. He's humble without overdoing it. His confidence becomes evident in his poise and forthright manner.

Taylor knew when he was at Nebraska that he wanted to run his own show someday as a coach.

"I think it all goes back to playing quarterback," he said. "I don't necessarily want to use the words 'Be in charge.' It's more about leading. I think as a player, quarterback is the right place to go for that. When you're in this profession, a head coach, leading is something you're drawn to in the long run.

"But at the same time, I've always known I had a lot to learn. I tried to learn as a position coach, as an assistant position coach, as a coordinator, as a graduate assistant. I tried to be the best I possibly could be at those areas before I had the opportunity to move on."

Taylor’s father-in-law and first-job provider at the college level was Mike Sherman, a successful head coach at Texas A&M and with the Green Bay Packers. Sherman called plays at A&M while Taylor watched and listened closely as a graduate assistant. Zac signaled in plays and felt a certain pressure to understand exactly what Sherman was thinking.

In other words, there were a lot of long discussions on Friday nights at the team hotel.

Taylor, who will call plays for the Bengals, also will benefit from serving as quarterbacks coach for Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. Almost goes without saying, right?

"Sean's a really creative, outside-the-box thinker," said Taylor, 36, who spent two seasons with the Rams. "He has really high standards for the players and a really aggressive mindset when he calls games."

Bengals owner Mike Brown has said he was attracted to Taylor's energy and the fact "he's up with the trends," which perhaps is another way of saying Taylor is more new school than old school. Or the opposite of his predecessor, 60-year-old Marvin Lewis. The franchise missed the playoffs the last three seasons. It hasn't won a playoff game in 28 years. Seems most Bengals fans agreed it was time for a change.

In a game-planning sense, Taylor digs the sort of technology available to coaches these days. Players understand stuff, too. They want that stuff.

You've perhaps noticed the trend of NFL teams hiring young head coaches whose strength is game-planning and strategy — and being on the cutting edge. But in addition to all of that, Taylor is going to have to lead. He may not prefer saying he's "in charge," but he's in charge. It's a weighty proposition for sure. He's going to make hard decisions that anger players and fans and whoever else. He's going to have to handle losing and being second-guessed.

It's very possible that come autumn, he'll wake up, turn on ESPN's "First Take" and hear Stephen A. Smith telling the world in a very loud manner that "Zac Taylor is in way over his head in Cincy!" Or something along those lines.

"I have no problem with stuff like that," Taylor said. "I would like to think I have thick skin. Say what you want about me, it does not bother me for one second. I know it's part of this profession. There's a lot of pressure, and there's going to be a lot of criticism. I actually like that. To be honest with you, that's the only way I know how to operate."

The best quarterbacks can operate at an extraordinarily high level even when it feels like the world is crumbling around them. Same goes for head coaches. You have to be a bad-you-know-what to handle it all. But you still can operate with class, poise and dignity.

That's what Taylor did as a Nebraska quarterback, and look at him now.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Related to this story

"This team isn't going anywhere," said Nebraska junior outfielder Joe Acker, who had two hits Sunday. "We're going to get back to Lincoln and rest up. We're going to hopefully find out where we're going to go for a regional, and we're going to go win a regional. Right now, it's hard not to think of today's game. But after I get off that bus, I'm going to be focused on what's next for this team."

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