Jeff Traylor has been preparing to be a head coach at the college level for close to 35 years. A walk-on at Stephen F. Austin in 1986, Traylor supplemented his football education on the field by taking a football coaching class taught by Lumberjacks head coach Jim Hess as an undergraduate.
Nothing in that class, nor any experienced gained in the three decades between then and now, covered how to deal with a global pandemic in your first three months as a college head coach.
Traylor took the UTSA job on Dec. 9 and planned to hit the field for his first spring practice on Tuesday. Instead, he was in the office mapping out how to make sure his players have places to live and food to eat while their campus shut down for the time being.
FootballScoop caught up with Traylor on Tuesday to talk the coronavirus, culture and text messaging.
FootballScoop: Let's start with the obvious. What's the latest with where your program stands in regards to the virus?
Traylor: Our kids have been instructed they get an extra week of spring break. We were on spring break last week, and now we're on spring break again. That's where we are right now.
FootballScoop: Have you or your conference officially shut things down on spring ball?
Taylor: As of right now, Conference USA put out something yesterday I believe saying that all spring sports have been canceled. I don't remember reading anything specific about spring practice in there, so I'm waiting to hear from my administration about where we are on spring practice.
FootballScoop: Aside from the obvious goings on right now, what have you learned in your first three months on the job?
Traylor: It doesn't matter where you coach. Whether it's at Big Sandy, Jacksonville, Gilmer, the University of Texas, SMU, Arkansas or UTSA, kids are kids. Our kids are fantastic. They love football, they want to be good, they want to win. They've done a great job in the strength and conditioning program. Ryan Filo has done a fantastic job with those kids. They've been busting their tail for us. Today was supposed to be our first day of spring practice, so for us to miss that piece is going to be a huge, huge burden on us. The kids have been fantastic, but that doesn't surprise me. Kids have been the same wherever I've coached: they want to be coached hard, they want to be loved. That's been the best part of my day (at UTSA) and that's been the best part of my day the last 30 years as well.
FootballScoop: What do you want a Jeff Traylor UTSA football team to look like?
Traylor: I think all football coaches would say kind of the same thing. Saying it and doing it are two different things, though. For me, we talk about our culture all the time. We want to be people of integrity, we want to be a passionate football team, when you watch us play I want people to know our kids are good people, they're having a lot of fun out there celebrating with each other, we want to be mentally and physically tough. It's easy to say it, it's hard to live it, and it's hard to be that way every day. We want to be selfless. We don't want to be about ourselves, we want to be about our teammates. And we want to give great effort all the time, perfect effort. Those are our five pillars of our culture that we talk about daily here. We hope to have an exciting style of football on offense. It doesn't matter how you play football, as long as you score it's exciting, but we like to be up-tempo and make it where the fans want to come to the games and have a great experience. Defensively, we want to be a very physical football team. I know Coach (Barry) Lunney will do a great job with our offense and getting that vision painted, and I also know Tyrone Nix is going to do a great job with our defense, demanding toughness, being physical and running to the football. I know all of that is coach-talk and we all say the same stuff. The fun is getting it done and we're trying to build that every day. Right now we've got a bit of a curveball thrown at us. I don't remember in my 1990 coaching football class at Stephen F. Austin with Coach Jim Hess, him covering how to handle a coronavirus in your very first coaching job. I don't remember Coach Hess teaching us that in 1990.
FootballScoop: What will your offensive identity be?
Traylor: It starts with who your quarterback's going to be. That was the biggest decision we were going to make this spring. We've got four kids on campus and three of those kids started ball games. Frank Harris, Lowell Narcisse and JoJo Weeks, so we have three kids that have started and played games. It really just depends on which guy we decide to go with because of those kids does stuff really well, and there's some things those kids don't do as well as other kids. We've got some good pieces around them.
You have to be able to run the football; if you can't run the football it's hard to win at any level. That makes you better on defense, makes you more physical, makes your play-action pass game better. And we want to throw the ball down the football field, got to be able to throw the ball down the field. One of my favorite sayings is, You can't score if you don't try. We need to throw the ball down the field and try to score quick. We want to be a physical, downhill running team and a vertical shot team. We'll add different looks, a different flavor to it, because the defensive guys are really good at what they do over there as well. You can't just line up the same anymore; there was a day you could but not anymore. Defensive guys have gotten too sophisticated.
FootballScoop: If you can't get on the field, how do you plan on making that time up as best you can? What's the plan there?
Taylor: It'll probably be just like how we're teaching kids all spring as far as the classroom. It'll be all online education. We'll be in the office or in the house, wherever we are, and our kids will be online trying to work on installs. Where the real disadvantage is we don't have our kids on video yet, we'll be teaching off of other schools. That is not a good way to teach. I'd rather film our kids this spring, teach them that, but that's not the hand we've been dealt right now. We'll do a lot of online teaching. Every coach I talk to, we're all in the same boat right now. They're all trying to be creative in getting information to our kids so we can put a good product on the field this year.
FootballScoop: What have the past couple days been like for you?
Traylor: We've been in a lot of meetings trying to anticipate what's going to come next and be in front of that. A lot of planning, trying to get information to kids. A lot of recruiting, a lot of FaceTiming kids, a lot of texting, getting them to call us, updating our recruiting boards to make sure we're staying active on our social media sites. We're being very proactive.
FootballScoop: You broke into the college game working for Charlie Strong and Chad Morris, two accomplished coaches who are no longer head coaches. What did that experience teach you?
Traylor: It's reinforced that you should be a good person because that's what God calls you to do, to love Him with all your heart, soul and mind, love your neighbor as yourself and treat people the right way, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter how good of a guy you are -- if you don't win football games, they're going to fire you. We've been called here to win football games. You treat people good because that's what you're supposed to do. I'm not sure you're getting any brownie points anymore for being a good dude. You've got to go win ball games. (Strong and Morris) are two really good people. They're really good coaches as well, but if you don't win they're going to get you.
FootballScoop: What's been your favorite part of the job so far?
Traylor: Probably the excitement in San Antonio. They're really excited about getting this new facility built. We're starting our new RACE building, a $44 million building. If you look at Conference USA we're at the very bottom in facilities, so what Larry Coker did here is amazing, and for Frank Wilson to follow him up, those two guys didn't have a facility to recruit to. We've only been playing football for nine years, going into our 10th year. The excitement of a new program, I know that scares a lot of people but it excited me because we don't have a lot of traditions so we get to create our own. That excites me. It's kind of like a picture that doesn't have a lot of art up there yet -- we get to make that picture whatever we want it to be. That new facility really has everybody buzzing around here. The groundwork's already started, actually started the first day of spring break. We've got all the trees knocked down, all the dirt moved; you can see where the facility's going to be.
From the rodeo to concerts to going to dinner, I've got my Roadrunner cap on wherever I go and everybody else is excited as we are.
FootballScoop: Your first game happens to be against LSU in Death Valley. How much time have you spent thinking about that?
Traylor: It's just not who we are, it's not what we're about looking that far down the road. We're literally trying to get through the day right now, trying to be the very best we can be. There will be a time where we can start looking down the road a little bit; now is not that day, especially with the curveballs we're all getting thrown right now. We're just trying to make sure our kids have a place to live, a place to eat. That's what's most important right now.
There's no greater opportunity in America than getting to play the national champions at their home field. What a great opportunity. We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but that's a long ways from today.
FootballScoop: I remember at your introductory press conference you mentioned you had thousands of text messages, and you promised you'd return every single one of them. How many did you end up getting? How long did it take you to return them, if you even have at this point?
Traylor: Yeah, I did. There were 3,800 of them. I did 150 in the morning and 150 at night. I was continuing to get them as I went, I didn't sleep much for a while. I'd get up, work out in the morning and try to hit about 150 and then when I'd go to bed I'd try to hit another 150. No copying and pasting, either, I individually returned every one of them. I've had the same number since whenever cellphones came out in 2001, I still run my own Twitter account. I'm going to keep doing that as long as I can. Every one of those texts meant a lot. That's 30 years of coaching from friends, to former players, to coaches I've coached with, coached against. A lot of relationships in those 30 years, so that people would take the time to text me and tell me congratulations, it meant a lot to me, so I wanted to make sure to take the time to extend back my gratification for them being happy for me.
FootballScoop: How many of those texts were asking for jobs?
Traylor: You know, great question. I've got about 5,000 contacts in my phone, and of the 3,800 maybe 200 of them I didn't know who they were. Nothing crazy because I pretty much had my staff in place when I started. There have been a couple of curveballs, but pretty much our staff has been our staff since day one.