SALT LAKE CITY – Troy Taylor spent four days a week teaching football as an actual class at Folsom High School, tinkering with different offensive theories and schemes.
His sixth period explorations have led him to current position – Utah’s offensive coordinator – just two years after being the head coach of the Sacramento-area high school.
“It was pretty obvious that Folsom High School was his laboratory,” Folsom quarterbacks coach Bobby Freques said. “And he would just experiment.”
The Utes begin spring practice Thursday and test out the new offense for the first time. Taylor brings a fast-paced, pass-first, spread-the-field system he concocted at Folsom to Salt Lake City – after one season at Eastern Washington. The Utah program has built a reputation of having a punishing run game, but has never had a pass offense ranked higher than No. 9 in the Pac-12 since joining the conference in 2011. Three times it has ranked dead last.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has been looking for the right coordinator combination for a decade. Taylor will be the ninth since 2008, replacing Whittingham’s longtime friend Aaron Roderick.
The passing game “was really what has held us back,” Whittingham said, “particularly, the last three years. We’ve been winning a bunch of ballgames, but haven’t been able to get that breakthrough.
“The lack of efficiency and lack of production throwing the football is something that needs to improve.”
The 48-year-old is not your typical coach. First, few make the jump from high school to Power 5 coordinator in 24 months. He is the founder of The Passing Academy, an elite quarterback camp in California that tutored high school players.
And when Taylor teaches, he’s as likely to use Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell or the Wright brothers as examples along with his influences Mike Leach, Chris Petersen, Chip Kelly and Bill Walsh.
“I became almost infatuated, in 2007, with Apple and Steve Jobs, their simplicity,” Taylor said. “What fascinated me about it is, the iPhone is a really incredible tool. … You can do almost anything on it, right? But what really makes the iPhone revolutionary is, almost anybody can use it. I’ve seen my seven-year-old son use it. I’ve seen my 70-year-old mom use it and she could never even work a VCR.
“And that became, kind of, the model and inspiration for my system. I want something very versatile, powerful, sleek, be able to do anything you need to, but user friendly for quarterbacks, so that you can just pick it up and use it instinctively and intuitively.”
Taylor wants to force defenses to cover the entire field with the quarterback going through progressions from sideline to sideline, instead just focusing on a specific area. Much of the scheme is based on West Coast offense concepts, but Taylor has tried to simplify the verbiage and other facets.
It all begins with the quarterback, who Taylor wants to be like a jazz musician – able to instinctually improvise without putting too much thought into it.
Taylor has had plenty of positive results. He worked with Washington quarterback Jake Browning since he was in 5th grade at the passing camp and at Folsom. Browning was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2016.
Taylor was a record-setting quarterback at California, a fourth-round NFL draft pick and was an assistant coach at Colorado and Cal before going back to high school as the Folsom head coach. He jumped back to the college ranks in 2016 as the Eastern Washington co-offensive coordinator and the team lead the FCS with 401.0 passing yards per game, ranked No. 2 in total offense (529.6) and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.4 points per game). The Eagles upset Washington State 45-42 last season.
Taylor, Freques and the Folsom staff would spend a week with a different college program each year to learn and craft their philosophies. They emphasize a quick tempo, the quarterback operating in confined spaces and having a wide stance when in the pocket. A strong-armed, athletic quarterback isn’t necessary.
“We didn’t stumble across (this),” said Freques, who has been friends with Taylor since 1991. “It was well-calculated what Troy wanted to do and we’ve used it to our advantage. … Every time we were at practice he’s talking about how we’re going to change the game.
“We’re preparing our quarterbacks, I think, better than anybody out there in the country. If the kids have the aptitude and a little bit of physical ability, you can train them to do well in our system.” The Utes hope so.
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