Troy Taylor returned to Utah's football practice Thursday, preparing to call the offensive plays in the Dec. 31 Holiday Bowl vs. Northwestern.
Taylor, the Utes' offensive coordinator of the past two seasons, was introduced Tuesday as Sacramento State’s head coach and missed three Utah practices this week while starting his new job. During a dead period in recruiting, Taylor wanted to finish his work with the Utes, even as he’s assembling his staff with the Hornets.
“We'll operate just like we did during the season,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The arrangement reminds Whittingham somewhat of the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, when Urban Meyer had taken the Florida job and Whittingham was succeeding him at Utah. They acted as co-head coaches in a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh, while most of the original staff reunited for the bowl game. The difference was that offensive coordinator Mike Sanford missed the Fiesta Bowl after being named UNLV's coach, so Dan Mullen was promoted as the play-caller.
In this year’s case, defensive line coach Gary Andersen has moved to Utah State head coach and linebackers coach Justin Ena followed him to Logan. They’ll miss the Holiday Bowl; Sione Po’uha is aboard in Andersen’s position and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is working with the linebackers as well as the safeties.
Utah's assistant coaches were not available to the media Thursday. During his news conference in Sacramento and in an ESPN 700 interview this week, Taylor said, “I wasn't searching for anything” until Sacramento State administrators contacted him about the opening in his hometown and that Whittingham “told me he would like me to stay.”
The school has given Taylor a seven-year, guaranteed contract that he labeled “unusual at any level of football” and represents “a major commitment to me.”
Regarding a lower salary than his $525,000 annual income at Utah, Taylor said he’s “not a money-driven person,” citing the pay cut he took to go from Folsom High School near Sacramento to Eastern Washington in 2016. In making that move, he said, “The overall goal was to be a [college] head coach.”
Asked what he'll miss about Taylor, junior quarterback Tyler Huntley said, “Just the way he prepares the quarterbacks as a whole. He gives us the right tools and lets us go out there and play comfortable.”
Senior linebacker Chase Hansen remains questionable for the Holiday Bowl with an undisclosed injury, Whittingham said, and Huntley is awaiting medical clearance, not quite seven weeks after breaking his collarbone.
Huntley went through a somewhat similar process last December, having missed the regular-season finale before returning for the Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. West Virginia.
“Last year, it was iffy if I was going to play in the bowl game, and I ended up playing,” he said.
Through that experience, he has learned to keep preparing, even while not being able to fully participate in practice. Huntley also missed two games in October 2017 due to injury and acknowledged being rusty upon his return.
“He's a mature kid now,” Whittingham said. “He's been through adversity and I guess like anything else, you go through something enough, you get better at it.”
The Utes will practice through Saturday, then break for Christmas and resume their preparation Dec. 26 in San Diego.