Zac Taylor makes no bones about it. He wants to be a college head football coach someday. It's his goal, and everybody needs goals, he says.
The former Nebraska quarterback seems to be on the right path as the new offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati under head coach Tommy Tuberville.
Taylor told me this week he's been preparing to be a coordinator for years.
Bear in mind, he's only 32. But his age belies his maturity. It was that way back when he was the Huskers' starting QB in 2005 and 2006. As a senior, he was Big 12 offensive player of the year, guiding NU to the Big 12 Championship Game in Kansas City, Missouri.
For whatever reason, he tends to be an afterthought in discussions about Nebraska's all-time greatest quarterbacks. But he was steady and accurate and made excellent decisions with the ball. He had a strong grasp of the offense and was an excellent communicator. Coaching seemed a natural fit.
He retains his competitiveness and sounds eager to run his own offense. It's been on his mind as he climbed from graduate assistant at Texas A&M (2008-11) to assistant quarterbacks coach with the Miami Dolphins (2012) to Dolphins quarterbacks coach (2013-15) and then to interim play-caller for the final five games of this season after coordinator Bill Lazor was fired.
"Whenever we watched games as a staff, I always thought, 'What would I have called in that situation?'" he said. "When I was a player at Nebraska, you always daydream about winning a championship — being a quarterback in a two-minute drive to win a game. Now, whenever I'm on the treadmill or going for a walk, I envision calling that two-minute drive to win a game. In my head, I've been calling plays for eight years now."
Taylor has strong convictions about what an offense should feature. He believes it all starts with a strong run game — you must impose your will on the defense, he said. He also believes in a fast tempo.
He said his quarterback will work out of the shotgun more than he will under center. Indeed, the zone-read will be part of his offense. However, this is key: "I feel it's important for the players' mindset and coaches' mindset to be able to get under center and run the ball when you want to run it, and make them stop you," he said.
He doesn't want his quarterback throwing 40 times a game. In fact, he said, he's "all about protecting the quarterback."
He chuckled, perhaps remembering the many times he was hammered by pass rushers.
Playing for former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, Taylor learned the importance of timing in the passing game, as well as the need for proper footwork. Say what you want about Callahan and Norvell, they coached with an aggressive mentality that left an impression on Taylor.
"Their mentality wasn't, 'Hey, let's let the other team screw up.' It was always, 'Let's be aggressive and go get this win,'" Taylor said. "I don't think I'll ever forget that."
As he advanced in coaching, Taylor learned offensive coordinators must communicate well with not only their players, but also their staff. It's difficult to fully understand everything that being in charge of a game plan entails until you're in that position. Taylor got a taste of it this season in Miami. That should help him now.
"You always prepare for situational football, but until someone puts 40 seconds on you, and it's a tight game and a tough situation that you're not in very often — that's when you learn a lot about yourself," Taylor said.
Miami was 2-3 in games in which he called plays this season, and the team averaged only 17 points in that stretch. That wasn't good enough, he said flatly. But the Dolphins had chances to win four of those games. And, in the end, his connection with former Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner led to the connection with Tuberville (Turner briefly coached under Tuberville at Texas Tech).
Tuberville obviously regards Taylor as a rising star in the business, and I think the Cincinnati boss is on to something.
You always hear Scott Frost projected as a possible future Nebraska head coach, and for good reason. But Taylor is intriguing as well. And now, they're both in the American Athletic Conference's East Division, Frost as new head coach at Central Florida.
They're both hungry to make a mark in their profession, as Husker fans watch intently.