Taylor-made coaching change
HURRICANE - Many times when a school hires a coach, its football program has been down on its luck and the new coach faces the tall task of turning things around.
Not so at Hurricane.
Jeremy Taylor enters a situation that could be looked at as ideal - or daunting - depending upon your perspective.
Taylor, who took over when Willis May resigned to follow his family to Florida, takes over a program that's experienced nothing but success in recent years.
The Redskins went to the Class AAA playoffs six times in May's eight seasons, winning a school-record 10 games in 2010 and reaching the playoff quarterfinals three times, including each of the last two years.
But that's where the rub comes in. Yes, Taylor inherits a lot of returning talent, including his starting quarterback and two of the team's top running backs, but with May's track record, nobody associated with the program wants to be team that messes up a good thing for the Putnam County town.
For his part, Taylor meets the demands of the job head-on. He's very familiar with the Redskins' recent run, having coached at either Hurricane Middle School or the high school since 1996.
"That's the goal, to make the playoffs,'' Taylor said. "That should be a given every year - like for George Washington, Martinsburg. If you want to be mentioned in the same breath as those great schools, you can't just make the playoffs. Everybody makes the playoffs.
"More and more, I think you've got to win more [in the playoffs]. You've got to win two. You've got to win three. That's our goal, to make the semifinals, to make it to Wheeling [for the finals]. A lot of people say that. I see the season as not successful unless you do make it there.''
Taylor has certainly gotten the attention of his players, who don't seem satisfied anymore simply by making the field of 16 or getting to the playoff quarterfinals.
"We've got to excel in the playoffs,'' said junior quarterback Austin Hensley. "Every year, it seems like we get to the second round. Every year the past few years, we've lost in the second round. Hopefully, we can get past that. It's all about heart.''
Junior running back Zach Pate concurred.
"We've always seemed to get to the second round,'' he said, "and we're not pleased with that. We always seem to get stopped there, and we just want to keep going till we get to the top.''
Taylor has been installing some tweaks to the team's offensive and defensive schemes, but the newness has been smoothed over by the fact that all but two of last year's assistant coaches have returned.
"Having the same assistants is really helping us out,'' said senior receiver Zach Cooper, "because we're still doing a lot of the same things. Coach Taylor was on Coach May's staff all those years, so we're doing a lot of what we did under Coach May. But he's giving us some new things that he's always wanted to put in, so we're just getting a mixture of both, and I think it's helping us out.
"I think we'll be able to handle it because a lot of us have been here before. Since we've got a lot of guys returning, it takes a little bit of pressure off us.''
Pate has also noticed more intensity at practice these days.
"Coach Taylor has us working hard,'' he said. "There's no goofing around, and not many water breaks.''
Taylor said he's going into his first season with his eyes wide open - he has no misgivings about taking over a successful program or one that competes in the cutthroat Mountain State Athletic Conference, which provided seven teams to last year's playoff field.
"This isn't my first go-round,'' he said. "I've been here forever - it's just that I left for two years and kind of wandered about at lower levels, then the job came open. I know what I'm doing, and more importantly, I trust the guys that I have. My assistant coaches know what they're doing, too.
"Coach May was a very great coach, but he's only as good as the guys he surrounds himself with, and I feel the same way. That's why I retained them.''
Taylor realizes that victories aren't a given, especially not with all the linemen the Redskins lost from last year's 8-4 squad.
"We've got one offensive lineman who played any significant time last year,'' Taylor said. "Four of our five [starting] linemen right now either weren't at Hurricane High last year or didn't play at all. When we scrimmaged on Tuesday, all five linemen had no varsity action at Hurricane High.
"We've got some skill guys back, and we got some guys from the baseball team, like [Zach] Fitzsimmons. Coy Turner's back. He didn't have any varsity time last year, but he's a good player. Alex Wolford should see significant time at tight end this year. I really think we'll be OK. We've just got to come together.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.