* Today my musings are devoted to Carl Taylor, one of the most interesting men I’ve met in this profession, who died Wednesday after a long battle with diabetes.
* Taylor, the City League’s all-time winningest coach with 318 victories, all but three at Southeast, never talked about the wins, the City League titles or even the state championships. He talked about his devotion to develop boys into men, by any means necessary. Taylor was strict. His glare was nightmare worthy, as in if he ever focused that intensity on you it was sure to cause a sleepless night. Taylor, who was 66, demanded attention to the rules, on the court and off.
* I’ve never talked to a coach who was so intent on his players’ academics. Taylor would suspend his best player – or his worst – if that player wasn’t getting the job done in the classroom. He stood up to disgruntled parents, explaining that what he was doing was best for their child in the long run. Even those who fought him at first came to understand, and support, his methods. And he was always right. Taylor had the integrity to go beyond lip service when it came to academics. He demanded classroom performance and those who didn’t come through didn’t play. It was as simple as that.
* The first time I saw Taylor coach was in a tournament somewhere and he was the coach at Junction City. I couldn’t take my eyes off him because he was so gruff on the sideline. He was a young coach at the time and he never smiled, never showed pleasure. He scowled and berated players and I came away from that day thinking he wasn’t a very good coach. Little did I know.
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* It wasn’t until Taylor arrived at Southeast, and I was able to spend more time around him, that I started to realize what a special man, and coach, Taylor was. He was one of my favorite interviews and it wasn’t because he provided sparkling quotes, necessarily. But he was interesting. He loved working with young men, especially those who were at-risk to go down the wrong path in life. He believed his mission was to help his players get through the turbulence of their high school years with basketball as a tool. He was a great teacher of the game, and also about life. He could relate to his many of his players thanks to a difficult upbringing in Kansas City.
* Taylor had a great relationship with the teachers at Southeast because he was such a champion for academics. He tirelessly checked on his players’ academic records and worked in concert with faculty members to push his players to perform well in the classroom. Every interview I conducted with Taylor over the years became mostly about his interest in his players’ academic pursuits.
* When he was coaching basketball, as he did so well, I never saw Taylor get into an argument with an official. He rarely addressed an official, in fact. His total focus was on his players, his team, and how he could get them to play better. He glared at players until the end, a 3-18 season in 2013-14 at West, where he coached for one season while fighting his poor health. But I would be surprised if Taylor ever received a technical foul. Maybe he did somewhere, but I never saw him get one.
* During a 13-season span at Southeast from 1996-97 through 2008-09, Taylor’s teams won three state championships, finished second twice and third three times. The Buffs were 242-66 during those seasons. Southeast had tremendous talent during Taylor’s season, but the biggest reason for the team’s success was discipline. Southeast’s players followed Taylor’s orders. When he spoke, they listened intently. Their devotion was based more on respect than fear. Taylor’s players were loyal to him. They, I believe, appreciated his tough love. He was a father figure to many of those he coached and a strict one, at that.
* As I got to know Taylor better, it was easier to get him to let his guard down. Underneath that gruff exterior was a kind and humble man who viewed himself more as an educator than a coach. He appreciated humor and when he flashed a smile it was as if a bright light had come on in a room.
* Taylor’s peers loved him. There isn’t a City League coach in the past 20-plus years who didn’t respect the way Taylor went about his job. He exuded such class. Taylor was the biggest guy in any room and that stature went beyond his physical presence. He had a mystique. He was special and everyone around him knew it. Except Taylor.
* Taylor knew his calling. He was meant to coach boys high school basketball. He was meant to teach. He was meant to work with players who needed guidance and structure in their lives. It’s certainly not documented, but I would guarantee the players coached by Taylor over the years are better off today – far better off – than they would have been without his influence. Every former Taylor player I’ve talked to over the years raves about Taylor and is especially grateful for his demanding nature.
* If we’re to learn anything from Taylor’s legacy, it’s that we should never judge a book by its cover. Whoever coined that phrase got it right. My first impression of Taylor couldn’t have been more off base. I made the mistake of drawing conclusions based on his demeanor. He was exactly the opposite of the man I thought he was and I’m fortunate to find that out over the years. Like so many others, I’m going to miss Taylor and everything he stood for. He stood so tall, so firm, so steadfast.