North Carolina Central co-offensive coordinator T.C. Taylor put on his headset and settled into his spot inside the coaches box at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
On a very bright day Taylor decided not to wear his shades, instead placing them on top of his baseball cap. With all the essentials - pen, playsheets, water, sunflower seeds - in front of him, Taylor calmly called the first play of the day, and just like that, the Eagles’ fast paced offense was off to the races.
N.C. Central held its second full scrimmage last Saturday and sitting in the booth next to Taylor and tight ends coach Carl Funderburk provided a detailed look at the man behind the curtain. The Eagles’ offense likes to go fast, and it’s Taylor who has his foot on the pedal. He arrived to the office early to, as he put it, get his mind right for the two-hour scrimmage, which he treats like a game.
Taylor keeps a playsheet close, but it’s not like he needs it. Entering his fourth season as the playcaller, Taylor can recite the plays in his sleep. His wife can confirm. Once the action starts, the back and forth from Taylor to offensive assistant Quinn Billerman, who signals in the plays from field level, is non-stop. Whenever Funderburk can squeeze in between plays, he informs Taylor of down and distance. Taylor is also in constant communication with offensive line coach and running game coordinator Jason Onyebuagu, as well as wide receivers coach Jermaine Gales. On game day, head coach Jerry Mack is also in the mix, but during the scrimmage, Mack is without a headset. During the action, Taylor literally hears multiple voices in his head. The group - Taylor, Funderburk, Onyebuagu, Giles - have done it together for so long they know how to navigate on the same frequency without it being total chaos. Besides, when it’s time to call in a play, there’s only one voice that needs to be heard.
In a split second Taylor shouts out commands down to Billerman such as Indy, Duo, Ram, getting the formations and play calls to the quarterback in a matter of seconds. Some play calls are as short as two words, some as many as seven. The entire scrimmage Taylor’s tone rarely changes.
“It’s all about what we’ve been doing since we got here,” Taylor said. “We want to get lined up and get the ball snapped as quickly as possible and cause some confusion. It’s something we’ve been working on and we emphasis moving fast with the tempo.”
Taylor’s goal, again, in a matter of seconds, is to survey the field and try and catch the defense out of position. Between plays Taylor looks for everything from how quickly the defensive line recovered, to how many bodies are on the ground. If majority of his offensive players are still on their feet, then it’s full steam ahead to the next play. Early in the scrimmage, quarterback Naiil Ramadan hit wide receiver Jalen Wilkes near the sideline. Wilkes caught the ball, made the first defender miss and headed up the field for extra yards. Before Wilkes hit the ground Taylor was already calling out the next play. There was no time to admire the big gain.
“That’s the thing as a coordinator in this offense I try to stay about two plays ahead,” Taylor said. “I know if we have success on this play I know what play I want to call next. If we don’t have success I know what I want to call next.”
During one series the offense got inside the redzone. Taylor called a pass play that fell incomplete. The potential for a gain was there, and Taylor knew that, so he called the play again. That’s an example of Taylor taking a mental note and saving the play, sometimes sooner than later. And as fast as they go, Taylor still has time to survey the defense. Several times during the scrimmage Taylor could tell, presnap, when there should be a big gain. More times than not, he was right.
“That comes with the hours we put in as coaches,” Taylor said.“We are looking for particular looks and we know when we get those looks where the ball should be going and when we hand it to the running back we know where he should be making that cut.”
And it’s not always go, go, go. After a big run by Ramone Simpson, Taylor announced over the headset “let’s slow it down a bit” sounding like a deejay switching from a party tune to a slow jam. He likes to go fast, but he always has an ideal of when to bump the breaks. That comes from looking at how well the offensive line is moving and also wanting to allow everyone a time to think and execute. Can’t risk a turnover because guys are fatigue, so Taylor allows them a chance to (sort of) catch their breath.
On gameday, it’s easy for the fans to notice a bad play and immediately call out the players, or Mack since he’s the head coach. But, at least for the offense, Taylor realizes there are times when he didn’t put the team in the right situation. Several times during the scrimmage he took ownership of making a bad play call.
“It does happen and I let the kids know that I put us in a bad situation,” Taylor said. “I let the guys know when it’s my bad.”
Taylor said the kids work hard, so he has to be ready when it’s time to put them in position to be successful. He knows what they do well in practice, so Saturday’s in the fall is when he gets to control the reins, quickly becoming the maestro. When it’s clicking, Taylor said the offense is like an orchestra, but it all starts with him getting into a groove.
“Once I get a good rhythm going I’m at my best,” Taylor said. “At times I’ll see a play, realize I fell behind a play and that’s my fault. That’s what happened on those two or three series we sputtered down, but once I get in a rhythm I’m good to go.”