The way some of the Cincinnati Bengals players talk about Zac Taylor almost makes it sound like he’s more of a colleague than a coach.
It’s quite the change getting instruction from a 35-year-old than it was the 60-year-old Marvin Lewis, but despite the smaller age gap between Taylor and a lot of the players, the new head coach already seems to have gained the respect of the team – just like a more experienced coach would.
The Bengals had their first meetings and strength and conditioning sessions under Taylor this week as the voluntary offseason workouts began Tuesday.
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“Just to understand the position he’s in, conversations are easy, just the little bit I’ve been able to be around him, I felt like from Day 1 he was easy to talk to,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “I think it may be an age thing, it may be that we both played quarterback, whatever it is — it’s been easy from Day 1.”
Six players are at least 30 years old with Clark Harris being the eldest at 34, and there are a total of 30 guys on the roster who are less than a decade younger than Taylor. New offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is 34.
Most have never worked under a head coach or offensive/defensive coordinator under the age of 45. Former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will be 47 this summer.
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“To be only a couple years younger than a lot of these guys, it’s different,” Dalton said. “Obviously, it’s a different phase in my career but to have the young coaches too, our kids are all the same age. It’s different, but I think it’s also fun. You can build relationships with these guys. Families, wives will get together, I think kids will get together. So, I think it’s going to be a good environment for everybody.”
Dalton, 31, has three young kids: 4-year-old Noah, 2-year-old Nash and baby girl Finley, who was born in January. Taylor and his wife, Sarah, have four kids: Brooks, 8, Luke 6, Emma Claire, 3, and Milly, who was born last April.
Even those without kids are finding it easy to build a relationship with Taylor, though. He seems to understand them, too, as evident from his theory that meetings should be short. That’s how he conducted things Tuesday and plans to continue that going forward.
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“That’s been important to me in places I’ve been for years now,” Taylor said. “I don’t have a long intention span. If I sit in a meeting with you all for more than 30 minutes, I lose my focus a little bit. I look at my phone as much as anyone. Nowadays, after 30 minutes, minds start to wander. So, if you want the information that you spent a lot of time trying to package to be effective, if you want it to really hit home, then you can’t expect to keep anybody — adults, players, whatever — in one setting for a long time. You have to try to focus that in and give them breaks when necessary.”
Taylor doesn’t want to bore people. He also wants to make sure they feel valued.
That was a big part of his message when he first was hired, and that might be part of why people see him as a players’ coach – he goes out of his way to be personable with the players. They also seem enthused for new ideas and a willingness to do things a little differently. With an organization that has operated under one coach for 16 years, it’s a refreshing change.
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“It’s a little crazy,” tight end Tyler Eifert said. “To be with Coach Lewis for eight years and go into my ninth year and have somebody new is a little different, but everybody is excited around here. There’s a different energy in this building.”
Eifert was surprised how experienced Taylor seemed in how he spoke to the team the first day of offseason workout programs Tuesday.
This is Taylor’s first head coaching experience, and he’s only been a coordinator at the NFL level for part of a season with Miami in 2015. He took command of the room as soon as he walked in, though, and never flinched.
“He seemed as comfortable as can be to me,” Eifert said. “I know I would be nervous with all these new faces and all that. … I think it’s going to be good for us.”
Taylor said he just tried to be himself. He likely knew that his demeanor would carry as much weight as his words the first time addressing his team.
“I just went in there with the energy I was feeling and said the things that were important to build this program the right way,” he said.