- John and Jim Harbaugh. Jon and Jay Gruden. Meet Zac and Press Taylor, the 30-something QB coaches making a name for themselves in the NFL
Zac Taylor knew his playing career was over when he picked up a Canadian ball for the first time. “That ball is bigger, which was a shock,” he says. “I first arrived at midnight, the GM picked me up and drove me to the stadium. I remember thinking the moment I picked up the ball, ‘This isn’t going to go well.’”
Taylor had just signed with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, because, despite being the 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Nebraska his NFL career was short almost to the point of nonexistent. An undrafted rookie, he was literally zipping up his bag to leave for Buccaneers training camp when the team called and informed him he’d been cut. “I didn’t even know you could be cut before camp,” Taylor says.
Now he was in a foreign country, holding a foreign ball that he knew he couldn’t throw. Still, Taylor finagled a spot on Winnipeg’s roster, lasting one year, his mind shifting towards coaching during that time. He already had strong connections to the coaching world.
Two years earlier at Nebraska he had met a lovely graduate assistant working in media relations, Sarah Sherman—daughter of former Packers head coach Mike Sherman. In the movies, the star quarterback at a football-crazed school would have no doubts about getting the girl he wants. “That’s not how it works at all,” Taylor laughs.
“I remember the first time I saw her,” he says. “We were practicing on our soccer field at Nebraska. When practice ended, there was a girl in a yellow dress. She looked so much more mature, I figured she was probably 30 years old. I’m only 22. As the year went by, I learned we were the same age. I would run into her more often and I realized maybe I had a chance.”
When Zac and Sarah started dating, Mike Sherman was a high-ranking offensive assistant for the Houston Texans. “The first time I met him, he was upstairs in his house,” Zac recalls. “He has his XOS coaches film set up there. I was as intimidated as can be. I figured, I can impress him by watching film with him. He runs a basic play back and forth and says something like, ‘What’s your landmark at Nebraska on this play?’ I say, ‘Oh, same as you [at Green Bay and Houston], the inside edge of the field numbers.’ I felt a panic at that point. And he says, ‘But aren’t your field numbers a little wider in college?’ At that moment I realized I had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t say another word for 20 minutes. That was our first real conversation. He was throwing me a bone on something simple about football and I failed.”
Still, two years later, Sherman, who by then was the head coach at Texas A&M, hired Taylor after his CFL experiment ended. By then, Taylor was his son-in-law. (Zac flew to Houston right before he went to the NFL combine to formally ask Sherman for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Sherman, figuring that’s what was up, gave Zac a two-hour tour of the Texans’ facility just to make him sweat it out longer.) Zac and Sarah moved to College Station, Texas and Zac became an Aggies graduate assistant.
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Five-hundred fifty miles north, Taylor’s brother, Press, younger by five years, was quarterbacking at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kans., leading the Grizzlies to a second straight NJCAA national championship. Press was a better athlete than Zac but shorter. He knew by college that his long-term connection to football would have to continue through coaching.
“I wanted to go to a Division-I school because that would look better on a coaching résumé,” Press says. He transferred to Marshall, where he’d spend two years as the backup QB. He then applied to grad schools at places he wanted to coach, figuring—correctly—that already being accepted in a school’s graduate program would make landing a GA job easier. He got accepted to Oklahoma and Texas A&M but chose Tulsa, where a GA was job soon to open.
While Press was coaching at Tulsa, Zac left the college ranks for the NFL. Sherman was taking a job as the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator. Zac followed him to coach quarterbacks, working closely with a young Ryan Tannehill. In a way, Miami would turn out to be where both brothers’ NFL coaching careers took off.
The Taylors grew up in Norman, Okla., on a cul-de-sac in the type of neighborhood you see in a 1990s Americana family sitcom. More than 20 kids lived nearby. A neighbor had a big square yard and the touch football games were epic. “Everyone in Norman knew our block,” Zac says. “There were five kids in our neighborhood who started at QB in high school. We had Division-I athletes from a number of sports available to play at any moment.”
The Taylors’ dad, Sherwood, played football for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in the 1970s and coached briefly for the Sooners and Kansas State Wildcats in the early 80s. “He was always the most physical when we played sports, not afraid to elbow an eighth grader,” Zac says. Besides Zac and Press, Sherwood and their mother, Julie, had two daughters. It was a close-knit family with strong traditional values.
Family trips were big—and still are, even with Zac, age 35, now having four kids of his own (ages six months to eight years old) and Press, 30, having an almost-two-year-old old daughter and another on the way. In early summer of 2012, one of those trips was to Disney World. A day before departure, the family met in Miami, where Zac was finishing up offseason work. Press spent that day in Zac’s office, soaking in the football. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to be in an NFL office,” he says.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, perhaps America’s hottest coach at the time, happened to be in the building visiting his friend Jim Turner, who coached Miami’s offensive line. Turner, however, was swamped and couldn’t spare a minute. So, he dumped Kelly in the quarterback coach’s office, where Kelly sat for three hours with the young brothers he’d never met. Zac and Press peppered him with questions and Kelly, to their delight, peppered them back.
Whenever Kelly left the room, Press and Zac would furiously type notes on what he'd just said. “I probably still have the document from our conversation with him,” says Press.
Kelly would leave Oregon for the Eagles job six months later. He asked members of his new staff if they knew of a young coach who would work ridiculously long hours for ridiculously low pay as a quality control guy. His assistant O-line coach, Greg Austin, who had blocked for Zac at Nebraska, told Kelly about his former teammate’s promising younger brother. Kelly perked up and said he knew Press.
“They called me and asked if Press would be interested,” Zac says. “I thought, ‘He’d better be interested.’ So I told them, ‘Yes, I guarantee you he’s interested.’”
Zac’s only inkling of reservation was he knew Press really enjoyed being at Tulsa and, more significantly, Press was starting to fall in love with Brooklyn Scheer, the school’s cheerleading coach. Friends had told Press about Brooklyn almost immediately upon his arrival. Tulsa’s football team would get done practicing a little before the cheerleaders finished. Press would dillydally on his exit from practice to better the chances of crossing paths with Brooklyn on their way to the parking lot.
Press and Brooklyn, dating for almost a year at that point, were on a walk when Press’s cell rang with the call from Austin regarding the Philly job. Standing in front of your girlfriend and immediately agreeing to interview for a job that’s 1,300 miles away can make for an uncomfortable moment, but if the relationship were to work, Brooklyn would have to embrace the peripatetic nature of coaching life at some point anyway.
“I think I said to her that I told the Eagles yes to my interest in the interview,” Press explains now. “At least, that would have been my argument to her [if she’d taken umbrage]. I didn’t necessarily agree to the job right then and there, even though in my mind I did.”
Brooklyn was completely supportive, though she initially stayed in Tulsa after Press moved to Philadelphia. “That’s when we kinda knew,” Press says. “Once we were apart, we knew we needed to be together.”
Press grinded as a quality control coach for those next two years. When Kelly was fired after the 2015 season, Press was one of five assistant coaches to carry over to new head coach Doug Pederson’s staff. He maintained many of his quality control duties but also picked up the title (and responsibilities) of assistant quarterbacks coach.
Under Pederson, Press’s reputation quickly blossomed. Prior to Super Bowl LIII, Eagles offensive coordinator (and now Colts head coach) Frank Reich told reporters “Press is a rising star.” After the Super Bowl, Press drew national attention for being the one who suggested they install the trick play ‘Philly Special,’ which he’d seen in a meaningless 2016 Bears-Vikings regular-season finale and had added to his vault of trick plays. (Eagles coaches refer to it as “Press’s vault.”) He is admired for his meticulous organization and attention to detail. And as a teacher, Press has a unique gift for articulating the finest details of any concept and seamlessly fitting them into the big-picture perspective.
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And so it should have come as no surprise that hours after the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory parade, Press, while having dinner with friends, got a call from Pederson. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo had just left for the offensive coordinator job in Minnesota. Press was promoted to fill DeFilippo’s spot. He’d be working with Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and, more importantly, third-year superstar Carson Wentz.
The only player drafted before Wentz in 2016 was Jared Goff. Just days before Press’s promotion, Zac had learned he’d be tutoring Goff as the new quarterbacks coach in Los Angeles. Zac had joined Sean McVay’s staff the previous year as an assistant wide receivers coach. McVay had told him up front that he was overqualified for the position, which was obvious on paper. Besides coaching QBs in Miami from 2012-15, in the final five weeks of the ’15 season, Zac had been the Dolphins’ interim offensive coordinator. In 2016, he was the University of Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. (He lost that job after the team’s head coach, Tommy Tuberville, was fired.)
Taylor took the Rams’ assistant wide receivers job in part because the path to promotion was promising. McVay had an unofficial agreement with QBs coach Greg Olson that the veteran assistant would be free to leave if he got offered an offensive coordinator job somewhere else. That’s precisely what happened when Jon Gruden rejoined the Raiders in 2018 and picked Olson as his offensive coordinator. Zac was L.A.’s in-house replacement.
McVay and Taylor were merely acquaintances before working together. “We really didn’t know each other personally,” McVay says. “I knew of him because I’m a fan of coaching. I remembered him playing at Nebraska. And when he got into coaching, I just remember being impressed with the way he handled himself in 2012 on Hard Knocks, funny as that is. He was a younger coach, and just the way he communicated with the quarterbacks, you could tell he was authentic and genuine.”
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McVay is effusive in his praise of Taylor. “He’s instrumental in our third-down game-planning. 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.”
Press and Zac find it cool that they’re coaching star quarterbacks who were Picks 1 and 2 in the 2016 Draft. Or, more accurately, they appreciate that others find it cool. “It’s more something that people bring up to us,” Zac says. “It’s not something we’ve thought to talk about ourselves.” The brothers do talk regularly, though during the season there’s an unspoken rule against delving into each other’s proprietary information. The Eagles and Rams played each other last year and will again this year, in Week 15. Back home in Norman at their dad’s office is the family trophy that keeps track of who wins when their teams square off. (Press has rights to it at the moment, thanks to the Eagles’ victory over the Rams last year.)
Their coaching careers are ascending at just the right time. Thanks to McVay’s success, there’s likely to be a run on young offensive head-coaching candidates this offseason—which is why, when Cleveland fired Hue Jackson last month, Zac’s name was floated by oddsmakers as the early favorite for the Browns job.
Bring this up to Zac, though, and he just smiles and nods, trying to move the conversation along. Press is even more reticent. Even though he headlines an unusually wide array of quality young QB coaches across the NFL, he only agreed to speak for this piece if he wouldn’t have to talk about his current role on the Eagles or his future. “He is more than happy to talk about his brother but would prefer to stay away from talking about himself,” the Eagles’ PR director had said.
Very well. But it won’t be long before football people everywhere are talking about both brothers regularly.
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