When the Cincinnati Bengals hired Zac Taylor to be their head coach in 2019, they certainly expected a change from the previous regime. He was taking over for a coach, Marvin Lewis, who had been at the helm for 16 years, but went 0-7 in playoff games.
Taylor was an intriguing hire because he was just 35 years old (Lewis was 60), making him the second-youngest head coach in the NFL. The youngest was Taylor’s most recent boss — 33-year-old Sean McVay, the coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Taylor had spent two seasons in L.A., one as the assistant wide receivers coach and one as the quarterbacks coach. That second season saw the Rams advance to the Super Bowl.
Helping guide quarterback Jared Goff and the Rams to the big game made Taylor a hot commodity, even though he had no full-time NFL coordinator coaching experience. Prior to L.A., he was the University of Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and from 2012-2015 was the quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins, albeit with a brief stint as the interim offensive coordinator.
Given the “win now” nature of the NFL, Taylor needed to make an impact in Cincinnati quickly, or the Bengals would move on. He knew it wouldn’t be easy.
Then the team went 2-14 in 2019. That at least earned them the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NFL Draft, with which the Bengals selected quarterback Joe Burrow. He showed promise, but in his 10th game, he tore his ACL. Cincy finished 4-11-1.
A record of 6-25-1 might get a lot of coaches fired, but Cincinnati stuck with Taylor. The move certainly looks wise now. Aided by Burrow’s marvelous season (108.3 passer rating this year, second to only Aaron Rodgers among starters), Taylor has led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1988. That followed their first playoff win since January 1991.
Going up against his former boss and the Rams, Taylor and the Bengals are 4.5-point underdogs. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives L.A. a 66.3-percent chance of winning.
Cincinnati, which won its AFC North division at 10-7 and earned the AFC’s No. 4 seed for the playoffs, wasn’t expected to get this far. But now that they’re here, the Bengals aim to prove they belong.
“Our guys are excited for the opportunity to prove ourselves once again that we belong here and we can win this game,” Taylor said Monday during his time with the media.
In winning an AFC championship and subsequent Super Bowl berth, Taylor has proved that he belongs as a head coach. If his third season had been similar to his first two, the 38-year-old likely would have been looking for a job elsewhere. Maybe his first full-time coordinator role.
But he’s grateful for how this season has played out, and he says his faith is a reason. He was asked Monday during his media session about faith, family, friends and football, and how those things line up for him as he prepares for Sunday’s game.
“In that order, as you mentioned,” he said. “That’s how I was raised and certainly I’m a believer, and believe that my faith has put us in a position to do some really special things.”
He continued to talk about how important his family is to him, specifically his wife, Sarah. Together, they have four children — Brooks, Luke, Emma Claire and Milly.
“My family is very important. I think all of our coaches’ and players’ families are a big part of this, the support systems that we have at home. I’ve got the best wife going around and she’s been so supportive. It’s difficult for them too, and they get to enjoy these moments just as much as we do,” he said.