Lance Taylor, Notre Dame RBs Embrace 'The Streak'
First-year Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor feigned annoyance when a reporter dared to bring up the topic.
That subject matter was the fact that a Fighting Irish running back has not lost a fumble to the opposition since freshman Josh Adams did on Nov. 21, 2015 during a 19-16 victory versus Boston College — a streak of 41 games.
Broaching this is akin to alluding to a potential no-hitter being tossed by your pitcher. Yet after an initial good-natured chiding, Taylor freely discussed what is perceived as taboo.
“First of all, ball security is job security,” Taylor said. “We always start our meetings and every drill starts with ball security … We have brought up the streak. It is an incredible streak, and the guys in the room take pride in it — and they should. And I want them to continue to take pride in it and continue that streak. We’re going to continue to carry the football in the right way and continue to highlight the times that we don’t.”
The law of averages — sometimes an erroneous generalization — dictate that such a streak is not sustainable and will end sooner or later. Taylor even noted that junior Jafar Armstrong lost a fumble during this year’s Blue-Gold Game. Still, he also pointed out how during a summer photo session for media material, one of his backs was asked to hold the football unconventionally to enhance the picture.
“He was like, ‘No, Coach Taylor wouldn’t appreciate that. That’s not great ball security,’” Taylor said. “I appreciated that even when they’re taking pictures. They’ve done a great job of that. A couple of things that we’ve talked about in our room is attention to detail, process over outcome, focusing on getting better one percent every day — making yourself the best version of yourself.”
It's no exaggeration that Taylor has learned from the best in his playing and still young coaching career.
• His receivers coach at Alabama in 2003 (when he caught 12 passes, two for scores) was current Clemson head coach and two-time national champion Dabo Swinney.
• His first role as a graduate assistant came at his alma mater under six-time national champion Nick Saban.
• His first-time full-time gig was at Appalachian State under Jerry Moore, now in the College Football Hall of Fame after leading the Mountaineers to three consecutive Division 1-AA or Football Championship Series national titles from 2005-07.
• In between NFL stints (one of them under Rex Ryan), Taylor also served at Stanford under David Shaw, where he tutored the likes of Heisman Trophy runners-up Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think about the great people that I’ve been exposed to,” said Taylor, who keeps in regular touch with Swinney. “…Now to be on this staff with Coach [Brian] Kelly — and I’m still learning. To me that’s how you continue to get better. If you’re in this profession, or whatever avenue in life, you should continually and constantly be trying to improve yourself.
“Every day you try to challenge yourself. I have been around some great coaches and I try to take as many notes as I can. I try to review those notes — I could probably write a book from all the coaches I’ve been around, all the things that I’ve seen even in my short time as a young coach. I feel super blessed and fortunate to have been the places that I have been and work with the guys that I got to work with.”
Yet Taylor remained in awe when the offer to replace former running backs coach and Notre Dame's all-time leading rusher Autry Denson, now the head coach at Charleston Southern, came this winter..
“Notre Dame is a really special place, and I felt that when I came here,” Taylor said. “ It really felt like home. Growing up in Alabama and having such a great respect for Alabama football and Bear Bryant, and the history and tradition — I felt those same things when I came to campus here and seeing the Heisman trophies, the national championship trophies…
“I felt like it really fit my belief system, it fit who I was. It was a great combination of a couple of different places that I had been. It really is a great combination of Stanford with high academic excellence, and also a great winning football tradition.”
Taylor actually instructed receivers at his most recent stop in the NFL (Carolina Panthers, 2017-18), which fits in well with the current running back personnel at Notre Dame. Armstrong was a wide receiver recruit, and freshman Kyren Williams also began his high school career as a wideout, and has excelled in that capacity this August with the Irish.
Senior Tony Jones Jr. likewise has often been lauded for his receiving skills, including a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown versus USC last year and three receptions for 56 yards in the hard fought win over Vanderbilt last year where he also rushed for 118 yards.
When he was at Stanford from 2014-16, Taylor’s running backs averaged 52 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns per season.
“I’ve primarily coached running backs and receivers,” he said. “That gives me a foundation of being able to have a little bit of balance to be able to coach both — running backs as runners but also as pass catchers. I’ll be able to give them a little more in terms of coverage recognition, route running skills, press release techniques. The neat thing for me is I’ve had backs that have had skill sets really situated in the pass game, which has helped."
Sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister add to a scholarship quintet that provides numerous options to the attack.
“The great thing is we have multiple guys who can play and give us different strengths,” Taylor said. “They are very complementary and do things differently — and do things well differently.”