Notre Dame has been in the market for a new running backs coach since Autry Denson accepted the position as head coach of Charleston Southern earlier this month. Their search ended on Sunday reportedly with the hiring of Lance Taylor to the Notre Dame staff. Official news from Notre Dame likely won’t follow for a few days as Taylor now goes through the Notre Dame HR process, but assuming all goes well, Brian Kelly made an excellent hire to round out his already impressive coaching staff.
Lance Taylor comes to Notre Dame after serving as the wide receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers of the NFL the last two seasons, but the experience most relevant for Taylor and the role he is about to fill are the three years he spent on David Shaw’s staff at Stanford coaching running backs from 2014-2016. During that time Taylor helped develop Christian McCaffrey into a Heisman finalist and recruited Bryce Love to be McCaffrey’s eventual replacement.
Prior to coaching at Stanford, Taylor held a few assistant jobs in the NFL for the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers from 2010-2013. He also spent two years on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama as a graduate assistant in 2007-2008. That is where Taylor got his coaching start.
What Notre Dame needed in its next running backs coach was someone who could elevate the recruiting efforts at the position just as much as someone who could handle the day to day coaching of the backs. For all of the impressive work that Autry Denson did in the Notre Dame running backs room, he struggled to continually add elite talent to that room during his tenure.
Taylor does not bring with him a resume packed with recruiting accolades but he did recruit Love to Stanford along with wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, 4-star defensive end Ryan Johnson and 4-star offensive lineman Clark Yarbrough so it is clear that he is able to attract top talent not only to just his position, but to any position. He was also named FootballScoop.com’s RB Coach of the Year in 2015 backing up his coaching credentials. Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees won their QB coach of the year award this season.
The recruiting experience that Taylor gained at Stanford gives him the kind of perspective on recruiting that other young coaches simply don’t have without recruiting at a place like Notre Dame or Stanford where academic restrictions make things just a bit more difficult.
Taylor was supposed to interview for the position earlier this week, but inclement weather forced his interview back a few days to Saturday. Apparently it didn’t take Brian Kelly long to know that Taylor was his guy. The other finalist for the position was reportedly Mike Hart. The former Michigan star running back has his star on the rise on the coaching front now as the RB coach at Indiana.
It will be interesting to see what territory Taylor is given on the recruiting front. Notre Dame deemphasized Florida, Denson’s old territory, in the 2019 cycle and focused their efforts on Georgia. Brian Kelly said it was a strategic decision by him, but didn’t say whether or not the subpar returns from the state under Denson factored into that strategic decision.
The bar is actually quite low for Taylor when it comes to being able to exceed his predecessor. Notre Dame did not land a single consensus 4-star running back under Denson’s watch. The Irish are currently well positioned to change that with the class of 2020 as they eye adding an elite back or two with AJ Henning and Chris Tyree two of the bigger names they are currently heavily recruiting.
The bar is quite high when it comes to producing a strong onfield product for Taylor though. No Notre Dame running back has lost a fumble since the 2015 season. In fact, the current streak stands at 40 games without a running back losing a fumble for Notre Dame.
Taylor will also be tasked with sorting through a Notre Dame depth chart that is full of some promise but in its current state doesn’t appear to have anyone like McCaffrey or Love. Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones, Avery Davis, Jahmir Smith, C’bo Flemister, and early enrollee Kyren Williams give Taylor some options, but it is pretty clear that he will have his work cut out for him in spring and fall camp to identify the heir to Dexter Williams and how to divide the carries amongst a largely unproven group.
Taylor’s first test, however, will come on the recruiting where he will likely be thrown right into the fire the second he clears Notre Dame HR and NCAA clearance.