CINCINNATI — Zac Taylor said all the right things at his introductory news conference on Tuesday in Paul Brown Stadium, and he did so with a youthful energy and exuberance that gave insight into how the 35-year-old Oklahoman won over the Brown family to become the 10th coach in Cincinnati Bengals history.
“We’ll bring a positive outlook every day we walk into this building,” Taylor said. “It’s a gradual build. It’s not going to happen overnight. As a young coach, you've got to build a relationship with these players because if you don't build that trust and that relationship, it's going to be hard for me to hold them to a high standard. That’s my first mission.”
Rumors that Taylor was the Bengals’ choice for their next head coach emerged in January, but the official announcement had to wait until after Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, where Taylor’s Los Angeles Rams lost to the New England Patriots.
Taylor replaces Marvin Lewis, who was fired Dec. 31 after 16 seasons. Under Lewis, the Bengals made seven playoff appearances but came away empty-handed each time. They are coming off three straight losing seasons and will enter the 2019 season not having won a playoff game since 1991.
The team hopes to change that with Taylor.
“It was time for a new direction,” Bengals owner Mike Brown said Tuesday. “We had lost some of the faith in our fan base, that was clear. It sent a loud message. I think we did it at an appropriate time. The trend in the NFL is for a young offensive coach. I want to look to the future.”
Taylor, who spent two years with the Rams, helped quarterback Jared Goff pass for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. His 8.36 yards per attempt ranked fourth in the NFL. The Rams’ passing offense ranked fifth with 282 yards per game and 10th in the NFL with the third-most receiving yards by rookie receivers, helping them to a 13-3 regular-season record.
Prior to his seasons with the Rams, including one as assistant wide receivers coach, Taylor spent one year with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville. Before that, he had spent four years with the Dolphins, serving as offensive coordinator for part of the 2015 season.
Taylor expressed his affection for the city of Cincinnati several times Tuesday.
In Los Angeles, Taylor worked under the tutelage of Sean McVay, who — after becoming the youngest head coach in NFL history at age 30 — helped the Rams become the first team in NFL history to go from last to first in scoring offense in one season.
Some are calling it the “Sean McVay effect,” but Taylor joins 39-year-old Matt LaFleur (Packers) and 39-year-old Kilff Kingsbury (Cardinals) as newly hired young coaches who also are considered offensive gurus. LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator under McVay in 2017.
“Sean is a very dynamic personality,” Taylor said. “He walks in front of a room and he energizes that room. I'm a little more reserved. That's just the way that I am, so I'm not going to try to be Sean. Sean is spectacular in his own way, and I'm going to do it the way I feel most comfortable with and has got me to this point.”
The hiring of Taylor ends a thorough search by the Bengals, who interviewed eight candidates, including Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph.
Shortly after Lewis’ ouster, there were signs of a shift in the way the Bengals have been known to do business when Brown handed over the search for a head coach to his daughter and team executive vice president, Katie Blackburn, and her husband and team vice president, Troy. Director of player personnel Duke Tobin took the lead in the interviewing process.
“Duke was the one who headed this up, and I want to credit him,” Brown said. “It took a lot of effort. He arranged for nine separate interviews and at the end all of us were in agreement that Zac was the best fit.”
Cleaning house of the Bengals coaching staff began soon after Lewis’ ouster and Taylor said on Tuesday the process of building his staff already is underway. He plans to look for an experienced coach to lead the defensive side of the ball, but it needs to be the right fit.
“We’re going to find the right person,” said Taylor, who starred at quarterback for two seasons at Nebraska. “It’s going to be the right fit for this building and for the players. We’ll look at people with all sorts of levels of experience. As long as they are sound teachers and get the players to play to the best of their ability.”
It remains to be seen whether Taylor and whoever he brings in as offensive coordinator can get the best out of Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ offense, which ranked 26th overall during an injury-riddled season.
Under McVay, the Rams were thought to make better use of their weapons than just about any team in the NFL. If healthy, the Bengals have plenty of talent in receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, tight end Tyler Eifert and running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. It was clear that Taylor was drawn to the talent on the Bengals’ roster.
“There is a lot of talent here,” said Taylor, who plans to call the offensive plays. “One of the reasons they put me here (is) because of the system that we’ll bring to the table, and it’s something I believe in and know how to utilize. So I’m excited to get that process started. I look forward to buckling down and getting to know the players on this roster. Then, you get the chance to figure out who your leaders are and what pieces of the puzzle you need to complete this whole thing. That will start today.”
The big question is how Dalton fits into Taylor’s scheme. Goff and Dalton complete about the same percentage of passes, but Goff had around 200 more attempts and passed for 2,100 more yards. Goff also had nearly three times the number of rush attempts as Dalton, who has two years remaining on his contract.
“I’ve seen Andy do all the things we’re going to ask him to do here,” said Taylor, who has followed Dalton’s career closely and spent time with him on Monday. “He’s been great under center. Great in play action, great on the perimeter in the naked (bootlegs), he’s been an accurate passer. He and Jared (Goff) are very similar personality-wise. They’re very smart.”
Taylor was joined on Tuesday by his wife, Sarah, and their four children: Brooks, Luke, Emma Claire and Milly. Sarah Taylor is the daughter of former Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman.
fter 16 years of disappointing sameness, the Bengals appear poised to usher in a new, more hopeful, era.
“Moving forward we will establish a culture of high standards and clear communication, on and off the field,” Taylor said. “We’re talking meetings, walk-throughs, practices, everything. These players want to be held to a higher standard and we’re going to do that. This staff is going to bring energy with a shared vision.”