Lance Taylor had been given his own position room. He had finally made it.
He had survived and thrived as a walk-on receiver at Alabama, playing for four head coaches and ultimately becoming a team captain. He had a dalliance in the family construction business in Mobile, decided he couldn’t live without the game of football, then became a grad assistant for Nick Saban’s first two Crimson Tide teams.
Now he was the receivers coach at Appalachian State, an FCS powerhouse that had won its third straight national championship just two years earlier.
“I loved it,” said Taylor, now Louisville’s offensive coordinator. “It was everything you work for and grind for and go through those hard, dark days as a GA for.
“Then all of a sudden I got an opportunity to be a quality control coach in the NFL.”
The NFL wasn’t what he was looking for, but it was a jump he needed to take.
And the decision that Taylor made — becoming a $25,000-a-year seasonal intern with the Jets, a move his mentors encouraged by equating it to a PhD in coaching — is the same type of decision that every young coach is ultimately faced with, one that oftentimes dictates whether or not they stay in the profession.
This past summer, the National Coalition of Minority Football Coaches partnered with Morgan Stanley to provide resources for career advancement. Financial literacy is a focus, as is programming centered on wealth management. Eight- and sometimes even nine-figure coaching salaries dominate headlines around this time of the year. Those are also extremely rare, but there are plenty of entry-level positions that pay next to nothing. (Bill Belichick disciples are known to speak fondly — and alarmingly — about their 20-20-20 jobs for the Patriots: 20-hour days for roughly $20,000 a year while in your 20s.)
The NCMFC, founded by Maryland coach Mike Locksley in June of 2020, is hoping to educate its membership and provide the necessary materials to provide career pathways for minority coaches and administrators in a sport that is woefully short on them. The coalition partnered with Morgan Stanley in August through a connection with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.
“As young coaches, you look and see some of the upper-echelon salaries that you read or hear about,” Locksley said. “If you just start putting away a little bit of what you can at an early age, obviously over the course of time that thing compounds for you. And to me, that’s where this partnership helps educate some of these younger coaches and some of the guys who are just getting into the business, of just understanding just that piece to create a plan like you do a game plan. But this one is a financial game plan.”
Locksley’s foray into coaching came through a restricted earnings job with Towson State (now Towson), which hired him right after his playing career there. He first navigated the professional world as a married father of two who was making $12,000 a year.
“I grew up in one of the tough areas of D.C. and had no idea about financial literacy and the importance of credit and those things,” he said.
His eyes were opened through a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator at the Naval Academy Prep School. And as Locksley climbed through the ranks, he knew he wanted to provide less rigorous paths for those who came behind him.
The NCMFC has launched a coalition academy in each of its first two years, featuring a dozen athletic directors (many of whom are White) and a dozen coaches (all of whom are minorities). Last year’s academy saw three members land head-coaching jobs: Tony Elliott, Marcus Freeman and Jay Norvell, who left Nevada for Colorado State. This year’s academy has several up-and-coming assistants such as Taylor, Tennessee’s Tim Banks and Michigan’s Sherrone Moore.
“We feel that has been very impactful because now we’re creating relationships and opening doors that normally haven’t been afforded to us through relationship-building and partnering these talented coaches with these powerbrokers in the field of football to open up doors for these guys,” Locksley said. “It’s been very beneficial.”
After Taylor accepted his job offer from the Jets, he held three different titles in three years, ultimately landing in Carolina as an assistant receivers coach with the Panthers. That led to the running backs job with Stanford during the golden age of Cardinal football (2014-16), allowing him to coach Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, which ultimately led him back to the Panthers, and to Notre Dame and Louisville after that.
“Fortunately I was young, I didn’t have any kids and I was able to do that,” Taylor said of making the initial jump to the Jets. “My wife worked and we were able to make it work. And it did pay dividends.
“What I tell each guy is that everybody’s situation is different. You have to evaluate if it is financially possible, and if you are at that point in your life where you can do it. And for everybody that answer may be different. But if you’ve got a dream and a goal and that’s what you want to do, if you really want it, there’s no other choice. You’ve got to find a way to make it work.”
Taylor was a born-and-bred Alabaman whose first position coach was Dabo Swinney and whose first boss was Saban, who recommended Taylor to App State head coach Jerry Moore for his first assistant job.
In those instances, Taylor was lucky. But he was also the son of blue-collar workers who had no connection to the coaching world. And he is also of Native American descent, meaning he lacked role models who looked like him as he tried to work his way up in the business.
His network grew by happenstance, as he endured one of the most tumultuous periods in Crimson Tide history, making an impression on coach after coach. But he also wishes he reached out of his comfort zone more to build better connections elsewhere.
“I take that role and responsibility very seriously,” Taylor said of his heritage. “I think as much as anything, I work to help young guys prepare for their opportunities and help promote them so they’re ready and can find jobs and be ready for their jobs when they get them, but also just advance the awareness in general.
“It’s been great being part of a bigger body of coaches that not only were bonded by being coaches and leaders and teachers and motivators, and we’re not all clearly the same race. It’s a place where some of the things that you go through, that you may not be able to talk about at other times, you can open up on. ‘How do you handle this?’ Or, ‘What have you done here?’ Or, ‘What have you seen guys do when this comes up?’ Or, ‘How do you help players struggling with inclusion?’ ”
Locksley said he has tried to talk to Mickey Joseph once a week since Joseph took over Nebraska on an interim basis in September, as the former wanted to make sure that the latter — the first Black head coach of any sport in the school’s history — had all the resources he needed to succeed amid a tenuous situation.
Finances are part of the transition, yes, but so much more goes into operating a program with so many eyes watching.
“You hope that you’re getting to the crux of what they wanted to focus on,” Sandra Richards, Morgan Stanley’s head of global sports and entertainment, said of the coaches she’s dealt with. “Did we cover everything you need to cover? Do you feel like you have enough to be armed to get to the next level of your career?
“But you’re also hoping they take this information and carry it on to the young men that they’re coaching and impart that wisdom and hopefully get that knowledge out to the young people they’re coaching.”
(Photo of Louisville offensive coordinator Lance Taylor: Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)