Trooper Thrives in Stillwater

Tied with MTSU at No. 110 in total offense among 120 NCAA teams, it's not surprising Tennessee fans think UT's new offense is getting real old, or that many are reveling in the success of former Vol assistant and ace recruiter Trooper Taylor in his first season as Co-Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State.

In his three years on The Hill, Trooper Taylor, who was hired away from Tulane in 2004, became a fan favorite for his recruiting prowess, bountiful energy and magnetic personality.

He was even more popular with the players he coached and no one could argue with the results he got whether instructing running backs or receivers each unit had a dramatic turnaround under his professional tutelage and masterful motivation. He coached running backs in 2004 as both Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.

He coached wide receivers in 2006 when Robert Meachem had a career year and went on to become a first round NFL Draft choice. Taylor had virtually the same set of receivers last year that have struggled so much this year. In 2007 Lucas Taylor had 73 receptions for 1,000 yards, Austin Rogers had 56 catches for 624 yards and Josh Briscoe had 56 catches for 557 yards. Together this trio combined for 185 catches, 2,181 and 15 touchdowns. Compare that to what the same as they have amass a combined, albeit, not so grand total of 29 catches for 394 yards and 1 touchdown.

Obviously there are other contributing factors beyond the coaching change, but the fact remains the Vols miss Taytor both on and off the field, as a coach, as a recruiter and as a vital chemical component on a team that is sadly lacking for chemistry.

Coach Troop, as it seemed prospects often called him whether they knew him or just knew of him, was often observed exchanging chest bumps or flying high-fives after one of his pupils scored a touchdown.

He may have been most popular with prospects and their parents as he turned in a process that can be tedious and redundant into one that was interesting and refreshing. If he was recruiting a prospect Tennessee usually had a fighting chance to sign them.

It was no secret that Taylor wasn't nearly as popular among some of his associates on Tennessee's coaching staff, who may have come to resent the attention he attracted as well as his popularity. For sure Trooper was no yes man, and he was wasn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The extent of the internal discord is not a part of the public record but it wasn't surprising to anyone when the candid assistant wasn't considered for the offensive coordinator's position that opened when David Cuttcliffe departed for Duke.

Fulmer stood on solid ground with his decision to pass on Taylor because he wanted an experienced play caller. He got one in Dave Clawson although he hadn't called plays above the Division-II level.

Taylor went on to accept the position of co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. He coaches receivers is a big part of the offensive brain trust although OSU head coach Mike Gundy calls most of the plays. Now at age 38 Taylor is one of the nation's hottest coaching properties as the job he's done for the Cowboys can't be overstated.

Through six games the undefeated Cowboys are ranked No. 2 in scoring with 48.5 points and No. 8 in total offense 514 yards per game. Tennessee is No. 110 in scoring with 17.3 points per game and No. 104 in total offense with 310.3 yards per game.

The Cowboys are No. 4 in rushing offense with 293.8 yards per contest and No. 57 in passing offense with an average of 215 yards a game. By comparison the Vols are No. 90 in rushing offense with 122.2 yards per game and No. 93 in passing offense with 177.3 yards per game.

It doesn't end there Oklahoma State has two runners ranked among the best in rushing yards average yard per carry. Kendall Hunter checks in at No. 8 with 862 yards in 125 carries yards (6.9 yards per carry) and Keith Toston ranked No. 64 despite averaging 8.1 yards per carry. He has rushed for 431 yards in 53 rushes. Hunter has scored 9 touchdowns on the ground and Toston has scored 5. Tennessee's highest ranked runner is Adrian Foster at No. 102 with a total of 341 rushing yards in 68 carries (5.0 per carry) and no touchdowns.

This isn't presented as a straight comparison since Taylor's role at OSU lacks the autonomy of a traditional coordinator, but it does underscore the positive impact he seems to have on a team wherever he has coached or played. The Vols made two SEC Championship games in his four seasons in Knoxville and they signed the nation's No. 1 rated recruiting class in 2005 and No. 4 in 2007, which featured four five-star prospects. The Vols haven't secured a five-star prospect since Taylor left for Stillwater and the Class of 2008, at No. 25, was the lowest ranked Tennessee recruiting class in over two decades. Oklahoma State lost 28 letterman from the 2007 team that went 7-6 but have already equaled the regular season win total with a victory over No. 2 ranked Missouri

> Taylor held the title of assistant head coach when he departed Tennessee. If any co-coordinator's role was considered for him it never reached the light of day. And it may just have been a case of experience not rising to the level of the vacancy. Still the Vols took perhaps a larger risk by hiring an unproven, at least at the BCS level, as coordinator.

Being in UT's offensive system four years Taylor could have kept the same offense in place and modified it over time, making for a less painful adjustment. Maybe UT could have teamed him with a veteran quarterback coach as he got up to speed.

What he may have lacked in experience he made up for with enthusiasm and he had the invaluable ability to get the best out of his charges. One thing that is overlooked is the element of fun he brought to the game. When you have fun you play don't play tight, you play better ball and you get better results.

It's hard to argue the Volunteers haven't had much fun this season.


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