Saturday morning, Stanford announced that Troy Taylor would be its next Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, following in the footsteps of David Shaw ’95 — the program’s all-time winningest coach who stepped away after consecutive 3-9 seasons.
Taylor arrives on the Farm after a successful four-year stint at Sacramento State, where he guided the Hornets program to a 30-8 mark during his tenure. This season, Sacramento State finished 12-1 with a loss to Incarnate Word in the FCS Quarterfinals. Taylor has been known for his prolific offenses, finishing in the top five in FCS this year in both scoring offense and total offense. He oversaw an impressive turnaround up in Sacramento, as the Hornets finished 2-8 the season prior to him taking over, and then subsequently went 9-4 in his first season.
Older Stanford fans should remember Taylor from his time as Cal’s starting quarterback from 1986-1989. The now 54-year old left Berkeley as the school’s all-time leading passer. With the hire, athletic director Bernard Muir has now put former Cal players in charge of both of the Cardinal’s main revenue sports — football and men’s basketball.
Taylor’s name had been mentioned among Stanford fan circles for some time as a potential replacement for Shaw, and when the job opened up, reports began to surface that he was making a push for the opening. Last week, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel reported that Taylor and former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett were the finalists for the position.
Garrett ended up publicly removing himself from the running, leaving Taylor to be a foregone conclusion.
Not a flashy, national news-breaking hire by any means, like what Colorado did with Deion Sanders, Taylor still represents a solid appointment by the Cardinal decision-makers. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than some of the other noted finalists for the job (i.e. Jason Garrett), but also a lower floor. Stanford is no stranger to handing the reins over to a promising FCS coach, having hit a home run with Jim Harbaugh back in 2006. Harbaugh came to the Farm from the University of San Diego.
With Shaw resigning and the precipitous decline of the program in the past few years, Stanford was at a crossroads heading into this coaching search. The future of the Pac-12 is in question due to the pending departure of USC and UCLA, and NIL and the transfer portal have created complications with the Cardinal’s ability to compete at the national level. The administration needed to make a hire that showed its commitment to competing at the Power-5 level, and I believe that they did with the hiring of Troy Taylor.
Now, is it a statement hire that sends a message to other schools across the country? No. The ideal hire for many Stanford fans — myself included — would have been Chris Petersen, the former Boise State and Washington coach who stepped away from the Huskies in 2019 and has been an analyst for Fox ever since. Baylor head coach Dave Aranda would have also been a statement hire by the Cardinal.
Taylor comes with some risk for Muir and Stanford, as the former FCS Coach of the Year has never been a head coach at the Power-5 level, but in my eyes he has the potential to rebuild this program back to where it was just a few years ago due to his prolific offensive mind and knowledge of Bay Area football. His time spent as a high school football coach should hopefully show that he has experience with player development and can properly evaluate high school talent.
The first order of business will be assembling a staff that is adept at both player development and recruiting. Taylor could potentially bring some of his Sacramento State assistants with him, but a complete reset of the Cardinal’s coaching staff is necessary since things have gone past stale as of late. It will be interesting to see who he taps to come along to Palo Alto with him.
Of equal importance for Taylor is getting to the Early National Signing Day on Dec. 21 with the 2023 recruiting class intact, and perhaps a few additions. Since Shaw resigned, Stanford has lost its two highest rated commits in edge Hunter Clegg and tight end Walker Lyons. Both are LDS recruits who will be taking two-year missions and will not enroll at a college until 2025. Clegg has since committed to Utah, while Lyons remains uncommitted and has said he is still considering the Cardinal. Lyons attends Folsom High School in the Sacramento area, where Taylor was the co-head coach during two separate stints, from 2002-2004 and from 2012-2015. Hopefully Coach Taylor can use that connection to reel Lyons back into the fold.
Stanford currently has 14 recruits who are verbally committed, including three four-stars, good for No. 38 in the country per 247sports.com. Myles Jackson, a four star quarterback in the class of 2024, committed to the Cardinal last week while Stanford was without a coach and announced that he would re-classify to the class of 2023 and skip his senior year of high school to enroll at Stanford in June.
Taylor will not just have to recruit high-schoolers, but also the current roster and attempt to hit the transfer portal. The Cardinal currently have 15 players in the transfer portal, and senior safety Jonathan McGill and senior inside linebacker Levani Damuni have already announced their transfer destinations, SMU and Utah, respectively. Only two of the 15 players in the transfer portal are undergrads — freshman running back Arlen Harris Jr. and sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Katona. Harris announced back in October that he would be transferring, while Katona was a walk-on for the Cardinal.
In general, it is tough for Stanford to bring transfers into the program due to the school’s admissions standards, however, Taylor should definitely make a serious attempt as there are now holes on the roster at quarterback, offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. Junior quarterback Tanner McKee declared for the NFL Draft this past week, leaving the unproven trio of freshman Ashton Daniels, sophomore Ari Patu and incoming freshman Myles Jackson to compete for the starting job in his wake. There are a large number of quarterbacks currently in the portal, and the Cardinal would be well-served to bring one of them in.
Along the offensive line, junior guard Levi Rogers is the only starter officially set to return next season. Senior left tackle Walter Rouse could exercise his option to return for a fifth season, but no decision has been publicly made on that front. Junior right tackle Myles Hinton entered the transfer portal after Shaw resigned, as did both starting senior center Drake Nugent and backup junior center Drake Metcalf, along with senior guard Jake Hornibrook. Senior guard Branson Bragg was forced to medically retire early in the season and senior guard Barrett Miller has also not made a decision on what he will be doing next year.
Similarly, in the secondary, fifth-year safety Patrick Fields — a grad transfer himself — is out of eligibility, as is fifth-year safety Kendall Williamson. McGill, as previously mentioned, will be spending his fifth-year at SMU. Senior cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly declared for the NFL Draft, while senior corners Salim Turner-Muhammad and Nicolas Toomer entered the portal. Fifth-year cornerback Ethan Bonner could still return but has not made a public decision.
The cupboard is not completely bare, especially if we see no movement from junior tight end Benjamin Yurosek and junior running backs E.J. Smith and Casey Filkins, but Taylor has a tall task at hand to replenish this roster ahead of the 2023 season.
Of course, Taylor will not ultimately be able to turn this program around without the Stanford administration making some changes to how it operates regarding NIL and transfers. These are necessary evils in the modern world of college football, just as we have seen the university be slow to adapt to early enrollees recently. The Cardinal will never be able to completely turn around its roster with transfers, but even just a small few each year will help immensely. After all, if this trend of graduating seniors choosing to ply their trade at other institutions in their fifth year continues, the Cardinal will be younger and less experienced than their opponents year in and year out.
As I said before, I am a fan of the Taylor hire and think he can be very successful on the Farm. A new era of Stanford football is here, and it’s time to get excited about the program again.