Carl Taylor went to one high school basketball game last season — to be inducted into Southeast High’s Hall of Fame.
His time away from basketball was self-imposed, and he battled bouts of boredom. See, Taylor is a basketball coach. He yearns to mold players, espousing his defense-first philosophy.
And after 20 years as Southeast’s boys basketball coach — City League-record 315 wins, 15 winning seasons, three Class 6A titles, two second-place finishes — Taylor was out of the game.
“It was boring, just totally different,” said Taylor, who coached 36 years combined at Bonner Springs, Junction City and Southeast. “Basketball is in my blood, my heart. I’ll probably die on the court. I missed it, the strategy, the coaching, the whole works.”
Back in basketball now as West’s coach is where he thinks he should be.
Taylor, who trained young players with former East coach Ron Allen over the past year, did get some flack from his daughters and sister.
“They said, ‘You retired! Why’d you take a job? You don’t need to be coaching,’” Taylor laughed quietly. “They told me I need to move back (to Kansas City), so I can work with my grandsons.... I said, ‘I’ll be just fine.’”
Taylor has 13 grandchildren, but he’s not interested in moving out of a house he’s lived in for more than 20 years. He also doesn’t like the idea of paying more rent.
When Phil Daignault resigned as West’s coach after seven seasons, he contacted Taylor. Daignault, also West’s athletic director, knows Taylor well, having spent 1994-2000 as his assistant.
“I had actually called him to see where his mindset was as far as retirement,” Daignault said. “I already knew his history, but who doesn’t?”
The call was one Taylor was happy to receive, although he has expressed interest in moving to the college level. He considered becoming a Friends assistant last season.
“At the time, my legs and back were hurting so bad,” Taylor said. “I told (Friends coach Dale) Faber, ‘That’s not fair to you. I’ve got to give 100 percent.’”
Taylor isn’t fully healthy right now. He turned the first few weeks of summer workouts over to assistants Reggie Taylor, Chris Tyler, Jason McCormick and J.J. Selmon.
Taylor’s legs hurt, and he tires easily.
“If I’m up on them a long time, and they start hurting, then I sit down,” said Taylor, who has diabetes. “Other than that, I’m fine.”
“He doesn’t move as fast as he used to,” Daignault said. “... He’s been around a long time. He’s not the same physical Carl that he was. He still has the energy, the voice, the mindset, the knowledge that we want to put to use.”
He has his work cut out for him at West.
The Pioneers have had four winning seasons since a 6A title in 1982 and a third-place finish in 1983.
In the last four years under Daignault, West won 26 games. The Pioneers won 20 over the previous seven seasons, a span that included three one-win seasons.
Daignault is sure, though, that Taylor can continue the process of turning West into a winner.
“The No. 1 thing that comes to mind is discipline,” Daignault said. “The way he organizes practice, he means business. He says what he means. He doesn’t back down. If he draws a line in the sand and the kid crosses it, the discipline is always the same all the time.
“... Sometimes the tough love comes with a price. The kids get a little irritated. But you care so much, they know you care, but you’re still hard on them. They take it because they genuinely know you want the best for them.”
Caleb Moore, a West junior who played junior varsity and varsity last season, knows the intensity level likely will rise with Taylor coaching the Pioneers.
But the possibility of winning is thrilling.
“My first reaction (to Taylor’s hiring) was, ‘Oh, I think West is going to turn around,’” Moore said. “I believe that he believes in us, he’ll push us and we’ll strive to get better. I think he’s really encouraging to the players and the coaches. Everybody on the team knew who he was. When they said Coach Taylor, they said, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Moore expects people to view West High boys basketball in a new light, too.
“I just want people to look at West differently,” Moore said. “It’s always ‘Oh, they’re undisciplined, they’re a bunch of hot heads.’ I don’t like hearing it.”
Taylor is confident West will not be in the cellar of the City League. He’s going to have a team of players who will play defense. Hard. They’ll understand the game. They’ll be committed.
“They need to get to know each other, play with each other, learn dedication and responsibility,” he said. “If you don’t come to workouts, you don’t play summer open gym. They’ll learn.
“I think it will take a couple years to get halfway to where I want. It seems like I’ve got good kids.”
Taylor’s not worried that his reputation as a coach will be diminished. Legacies don’t concern him.
“That was good, those accolades. That’s behind me,” he said. “... We won’t be in the cellar all the years I’m at West. We’ll get it up. We might not be at the top, but we’ll be in the center. When they play us, they’ll know they’ll have a game with us.”