College football: Troy Taylor faces the coach that lifted him from high school ranks

Troy Taylor’s return to college was a bit like his first venture after high school.

Meager living. Piles of laundry. Eat what you can. Slog to campus and put in a day, and then football practice, the fun stuff.

Taylor, after a historically great run as co-head coach at Folsom High School, was recruited by Beau Baldwin to call plays at FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington of the Big Sky Conference, where Baldwin was the head coach. This was in 2015. The move changed Taylor’s life. It all ties together now because Baldwin is the head coach at Cal Poly. Taylor leads Sacramento State, which heads to San Luis Obispo on Saturday for a Big Sky opener. The coaches will surely embrace before the kickoff.

“If it wasn’t for Beau giving me an opportunity, I wouldn’t be here,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of people who would hire a high school guy to come in and run an offense for a college program that had been incredible. Beau is that type of person. He went with his gut. He empowered me. Made it appealing that I take a two-thirds pay cut and move to Cheney.”

Taylor said that last part with a laugh. True story. Taylor took a hit in salary, going from full-time high school teacher and coach to lightly paid play-caller for the Eagles. Taylor embraced change because he was ready for a challenge after winning all there was to win at Folsom. He headed to Spokane County with little more than a trusty notepad to doodle plays and all manner of hope.

Taylor’s wife, Tracey, and their children stayed behind, trying to sell the house. He soldiered on solo. It was a bachelor living to the core, not so different than when he headed to Cal to play quarterback for four years after his Cordova High School days.

“I got to Cheney days before the Super Bowl, in the winter, rented a house that had no furniture, but I did get a mattress,” Taylor explained. “I had a couple of bowls and was always trying to steal my neighbor’s internet wifi. There were some lonely nights but it was worth it.”

This is how strategic Taylor was with that mattress: “I didn’t even put it in the bedroom. I put it in the dining room so I could reach over and hit the light switch.”

His stay included Eastern Washington setting school and FCS passing records, and the Eagles were within a play of reaching the national championship game as Taylor expertly groomed a former walk-on quarterback, Gage Gubrud, into a star.

Taylor then became offensive coordinator at Utah of the Pac-12. More success. Hired at Sacramento State before the 2019 season, the Hornets are in the midst of their greatest run since the program started in 1954, including winning the last two Big Sky championships.

Baldwin got a recommendation on Taylor from Chris Petersen, the one-time Yuba High, Sacramento City College and UC Davis quarterback who had coaching success at Boise State and Washington.

“Chris told me, ‘Hey Beau, there’s one guy you might want to investigate,’” Baldwin said from his Cal Poly office. “Chris didn’t give me five names. Just one person. I stopped by Folsom and Troy and I spent hours in his little office talking football. At the end, you just know when you know. I left knowing that was our guy. Knew it in my heart.”

Taylor made his own similar high school-to-college hire when he accepted the Hornets post. He brought with him his Folsom co-head coach, Kris Richardson, to be Sacramento State’s offensive line coach and assistant head coach. Richardson had no prior college coaching experience.

“I needed Kris with me,” Taylor said. “He’s such an unbelievable football coach and such a great person. Just his emotional stability, he’s always the same. I knew if we had him, we’d have a chance. I believe the really good high school coaches are the best coaches in the country. They know how to coach everything. They know how to drive people. They have to do everything. They deal with things we never have to at this level.”

Taylor said without the blessing of wife Tracey, none of this would have played out.

“If she said, ‘Troy, we can’t do that,’ it never would have happened with me going to Chaney,” Taylor said. “She believed in me. Complete act of faith.”

Ranked fifth in the FCS, Sacramento State is 3-0 for the first time since 1992. The Hornets have won 11 consecutive regular-season games and are coming off a 41-10 rout at FBS Colorado State. Sacramento State has not trailed in a game this season. The Hornets are 16-1 in the Big Sky under Taylor and staff since 2019 and 10-0 on the road in that time against FCS teams.

“Not surprised at all what Troy’s done at Sac State,” Baldwin said. “I’m really impressed with what he’s doing. Troy is one of the smartest football minds I’ve ever been around. I enjoyed working with him. I learned a lot from him. He sees things one to two steps ahead. That always impressed me. Very happy for him, very deserving.”

And here’s the kicker. Taylor and staff are running the same things at Sacramento State as they did at Folsom, with the same approach of positive reinforcement instead of brow-beating bark sessions.

“It was all made at Folsom High School,” Taylor said. “We morphed and adjusted and changed a little bit but the principles of how to coach, how to use space, how to attack a defense, all those things were developed in the sixth-period Folsom PE class.”