In my first article for UHND.com, I have the pleasure of interviewing two-time college football All-American, NFL Super Bowl Champion, CBS Sports Network college football analyst, Founder of the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line unit in college football and more importantly one of most solid human beings I’ve met in my life, Aaron Taylor.
Let’s get right into it as we are just days from the 2018 college football season.
Now, I know you are an analyst for the rival CBS Sports Network but back in 1993 prior to your network’s inception, the first ever ESPN College Gameday premiered in South Bend when you guys ranked #2 played the #1 ranked Florida State Seminoles. Do you remember what the atmosphere was like for that game as a player with Gameday being on campus that made it different than any other game you had played?
“It was bananas, man! The build up to the game was extraordinary. It added to the magnitude of what was already taking place. We knew that the game was special. The demands and burdens on us were similar to what I would later experience getting ready for the Super Bowl. You had interview requests and did things for the television networks that you normally wouldn’t do. So your schedule was not only busier, but it was changed in a lot of respects. As a captain, as a senior, as a prominent player on that team the interview requests were sizable and added to the magnitude of what was already feeling like an incredibly big game.”
The hype has again returned for the renewal of the Notre Dame vs. Michigan rivalry.
What’s your fondest memory of playing Michigan?
“Aside from being 2-1-1 and having a winning record against them, the most memorable memory was the fact that we tied them. It was the only time I ever played in a tied football game and it was a very unfulfilling feeling. It was surreal in certain respects. We had gone through what we had gone through over sixty minutes and there was no payoff and it felt unfinished. It was better than a loss, but it felt like a loss, because it wasn’t a win.”
Both teams have highly touted defenses as well as big question marks on offense, how do you see this game playing out?
“The first one to eleven wins! It’s going to be a defensive battle. Certainly, the quarterbacks will factor in huge for each team. Obviously Shea Patterson, the transfer from Ole Miss, has Michigan fans excited and for good reason. But, he’ll be a first year starter in that system and on the road in a big atmosphere so how he navigates that defense with some nerves is going to be the storyline to watch there. For the Irish, I think their entire season rides on the ability of Brandon Wimbush to continue to develop. He’s a fantastic kid, a great teammate and all the coaches love him but he needs to learn to be more consistent, reliable and develop the poise necessary to win at Notre Dame.”
Brian Kelly has had a somewhat tumultuous run as head coach of the Irish. He is also the longest tenured coach at the university without winning the title. If the Irish lose this game and are not in playoff contention at the end of this season, do you believe his job is in jeopardy?
“Not yet. I think if things continue to go the seven or eight win route that certainly could be the case but I’ve been really encouraged by his ability to look in the mirror and take responsibility and accountability for not only changes in himself but within his staff and how he conducts his program. The aspirations were high. They got to the National Championship game. He didn’t get the result that Irish fans wanted but he’s been a proven developer of talent and programs over time and I think it is way more in Notre Dame’s best interest to continue to give him an opportunity to make a run then to make a change. I think that’s the hardest thing for fans to understand. It’s like buying and selling a stock – it’s a two-step equation. It’s easy to do the first part but it’s not easy to figure out when to do the second part.”
What characteristics did Holtz have that you haven’t seen in any of the head coaches since?
“A National Championship!”
You and I went to an Notre Dame / Michigan tilt in the early 2000’s at the Big House. As we stood on the sidelines, I remember you laughing and telling me how slow the college game was compared to the NFL. Please explain for the readers.
“It’s uncanny the increase in talent, athleticism, size, speed, experience when you jump from the collegiate to the professional level. It truly is the best of the best. I’ve always been amazed at what it takes to not only play but to excel at that next level.”
I understand that the talent level in the NFL is a much higher caliber. What are some things about your college experience at Notre Dame that outweighed playing in the NFL?
“The people! In the NFL, the bottom line is the bottom line. The NFL is a business and that’s the harsh reality. In the end, we are subject to the fact that if they can find somebody to do our job as good or as well as us for less money, they are going to cut us or if they can find someone to do a better job than us for the same money they are going to cut us.
In college, it was the last pure level I was able to experience football. It was a magical time of having this great network and culture that I was a part of but having tremendous anonymity. We grew up and became men together on that campus. And it was playing big time football on a very large stage with a lot at stake all the while getting a college degree, and for many the first in their family to achieve that. It was this beautiful mix of professionalism, amateurism and innocence, if you will, and I got to form lifelong relationships with people that still play a significant role in my life today.
It’s just not the case in the NFL. The further I got away from it, the only thing that many of my teammates in the NFL and I had in common is the sport of football. Once we got away, we just sort of drifted away. That hasn’t been the case with the guys from Notre Dame because we just have a lot more in common then just the game.”
You are the Founder of the Joe Moore Award and it is the only major college football award that goes to a unit other than an individual. Coach Moore was your offensive line coach at Notre Dame. How did he help in shaping the man you are today?
“Joe had an uncanny ability to make us all the best versions of ourselves. Whether you were a college football Hall-of-Famer or a walk-on, it didn’t matter. He wanted and was able to get out of you everything you had to offer. Because of that, he taught us to be successful centers, guard and tackles but also taught us to be successful in other areas in life and that’s why I thought it was fitting to name a college award after him that celebrates the very things that make the sport of football and our country what it is. And that’s toughness and teamwork. I think it’s about the possibility of what can be created when a group of hard-working like-minded individuals work their tail off for the greater good without desire for personal gain. It truly is about your teammates and the men behind you that are relying on you, and man, what would our world be like if everything operated like the offensive line? That’s what we are trying to embody with the award.”
The 2017 Notre Dame unit was honored with that award. What’s your assessment of the 2018 unit after losing two first round draft picks in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey?
“Close links and march on! They have some experienced players coming back. I think hiring internally is a great way to continue that impressive culture that Harry Hiestand brought to the table and allowed him to have Ronnie Stanley, Zach Martin, Quenton and Mike. All those guys drafted in the first round. Will there be a drop off this year? In certain ways, but I think when you take a look across the ball, starting five to starting five we might not have any Quenton Nelson’s or Mike Mcglinchey’s but we might have five Chris Watt’s so that would be very reminiscent to what we had at Notre Dame during my time. We had tremendous success when a couple of us were All-American’s but there were also some dudes that were just dudes that got the job done.”
At the beginning of every season, we Notre Dame fans have the delusions of grandeur of becoming National Champions once again. In your professional opinion, what’s your evaluation of this year’s team?
“I think that would be a stretch and a lot would have to go right for us to get to the College Football Playoff this year. Luckily, we have the type of schedule that if we win it’s possible but it all starts under the lights against Michigan. A victory of any sort there would make a very strong statement and build some confidence for a young team that’s good and talented but has yet to prove what it’s capabilities are.
I think nine or ten wins are easily attainable. If they get to ten, I think they can creep in. I think there is room to grow for this team to be a National Championship caliber contender and I like what I’m seeing in the improvement towards that. I would encourage Notre Dame fans to continue to be patient with Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick and the pieces that are in place now. It’s a very solid program. Have we had the results that we wanted these last couple years, no, but you can’t underestimate and overstate the importance of having good stability to build towards making a two or three year run which for the overwhelming majority of most teams in college football is what you have to hope for…with Alabama maybe the exclusion.”
Four and Out
If you had to go into the trenches with only one teammate from your time at Notre Dame, who is the guy you want by your side?
“I’d say Bryant Young. He was my best friend in college. I took my first snap ever in college against him and he brings it. Everything he does in every area of his life you get everything he has and it’s tenacious and intense. But more than that, he’s a good friend and someone I trust impeccably. He’s been there through thick and thin.”
Who is the toughest defensive lineman you ever faced?
You don’t have to name names, but what’s the worst thing you ever saw another player do at the bottom of a pile?
“I’ll name my own name. There are unspeakable things that take place below the piles and all bets are off. Anything goes. Anything is fair game to affect the opposing player to let go of the football so you can take possession of it.”
If there was one moment you could relive from your playing days at Notre Dame what would it be?
“The feeling we had after the Florida State victory in 1993. Getting the chance to experience the feeling that we had done it together and as seniors that our dreams of a National Championship and graduating were alive. That was an epic game. It was a true team effort. Offense, defense and special teams…and we got it done. Unfortunately looking back, I think we enjoyed it too much and that’s what eventually cost us our National Championship because we couldn’t pull it together the next week against a good but very beatable Boston College team.”
Well, hopefully the young men at Notre Dame will get to experience something like the type of elation of that Florida State game when they play Michigan on September 1st.
“Amen! It’s up to them!”