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From near collapse to championships: How Rick Taylor became BU’s winningest coach in football history

Rick Taylor football coach profile
Rick Taylor (left), Courtney McLaughlin and Mike Kelleher from Fall 1979. Former Boston University Football Coach Taylor, with a 55-32-1 overall record, is the winningest coach in all of the program’s history. COURTESY OF COURTNEY MCLAUGHLIN

Every year, a group of Boston University football players from the early 1980s meet up at a local bar in Providence, then load up their trucks with supplies and take a ferry to Block Island. For a few days, they sit around and reminisce about their glory days as Terriers, enjoying a few beers in between the smiles and laughs before plunging into the frigid Atlantic Ocean.

When a rainstorm halted the group’s annual outdoor festivities one year, someone suggested everyone should share their favorite game memory. Each member of the group’s story contained the man who was sitting next to them — their old head coach, Rick Taylor. 

Taylor spent seven years at the helm of the Terriers program after stints with Dartmouth and other northeastern schools. His 55-32-1 overall record makes him the winningest coach in program history. Taylor’s résumé also includes four Yankee Conference championships and the program’s first Division 1-AA playoff win in 1983.

“Rick really built it up from scratch. It was kind of a down-and-out program. He came in, with the work ethic and the attitude of a very intelligent guy himself and put it all together,” Dartmouth football head coach Buddy Teevens, who shared time with Taylor with the Big Green, said. “He really formed my mindset as a coach.

Before Taylor arrived on Comm. Ave in 1977, the Terriers had one winning season in the 70s. The program suffered from disciplinary issues — one player allegedly died from a gunshot wound that some say was a result of a game of Russian Roulette between players.

“They were basically very, very undisciplined. [The team] desperately needed discipline. And whether we gave it to them or not, it worked and we got better,” Taylor said.

Former players joke that everything was on “Taylor time” — 10 minutes earlier than what was scheduled. He had a coach living in the dorm at all times to keep an eye on his players. When class conflicts popped up during scheduled workout times in his first offseason, Taylor instituted mandatory 6 a.m. workouts. 

“They didn’t particularly like that, but that year we worked out and the next year we didn’t have any class conflicts,” Taylor said with a chuckle.

In the recruiting realm, the coaching staff turned their attention to those just under the division one level. Players who had yet to fully develop, or basketball players who had yet to discover football, were all on the Terriers’ recruiting boards. There was one trait that was non-negotiable to Taylor and the program — every member brought into the program was to be of high character. 

“He pushed every last one of our butts … He knew how to get the best out of all of us and sometimes it was mind games. Sometimes he could do some rough things, to play with you,” former BU placekicker Steve Shapiro said.

Former running back Randy Petus recalls Taylor’s unique way of getting the best out of him.

“He’s like ‘I met your parents and your mom would be disappointed at your effort,’” Petus said. “He just knew how to push the right buttons with the right people to get them to do what needs to be done.” 

 While Taylor was working to rebuild the Terriers program on the field, he was also rebuilding the program’s reputation within the University itself. Former longtime BU president John Silber had recommended to the Board of Trustees that the University cut the football program in 1973, four years before Taylor arrived in Boston. 

Taylor quickly earned the respect of Silber and persuaded the president to allow the football program to use money from a national TV game to renovate its locker room and build a new weight room.

After a difficult first season at BU for Taylor, it was clear he had the program on the right path by 1978, leading the Terriers to a 3-0 start to the season. In the fourth game of the year, the Terriers avenged a 38-0 loss to Dartmouth the prior year with a 20-17 win, defeating the Big Green for the first time in school history. In its recap, The Boston Globe declared the Terriers were “for real.”

Former linebacker coach Kevin Young recalled Taylor telling players postgame that the team had “made a significant step in the future of BU football.”

For the rest of Taylor’s time as head coach, the Terriers embodied the personality of their fiery head coach. “He came in and he’s like, ‘You know what, you guys don’t need to go out there. I’ll go out there and play because I’m better than any of you. I have more heart.’ It turned the whole team around,” Petus said.

Petus recalled that at halftime of one game, BU was down and had played below the expectations of Taylor. Taylor, feeling that his team was a bit sluggish, attempted to provide a spark. Taylor came into the locker room wearing a helmet and began challenging the players. Petus recalled Taylor playfully shoving the team captains and telling them that he was tougher than them. Taylor’s ploy worked — BU came back and won the game.

Taylor’s fierce disciplinarian style and recruitment of high-character players revitalized the program’s reputation at BU. Some of Taylor’s players were awarded the Scarlet Key Award, which recognizes students whose accomplishments bring “recognition or honor to the University.” President Silber invited the team’s captains for personal conversations multiple times and even addressed the team as a whole on a few occasions. 

“It shocked some people in the administration because it was a John Silber they didn’t recognize,” Taylor said.

Even though he was on the top of his game, Taylor had no regrets about stepping away from the sidelines. Like many football coaches before him, and many after him, Taylor had missed a lot of time during his children’s upbringings — both during the season coaching and in the offseason recruiting.

“My oldest son was a soccer player, and I missed his growing up terribly. Our second son played football and I wasn’t gonna miss it,” Taylor said. 

Following the 1984 season, Taylor was promoted by BU to Athletic Director. He served until 1988 when he would be hired to the same position at Cincinnati. Taylor would finally become Athletic Director at Northwestern University before retiring in 2003.

Taylor, now 80 years old, remains in constant contact with his former players and coaches.

“I get guys who are calling from a bar asking ‘do you remember this?’” Taylor joked. “They tell stories that are truly embellished — things that I never did. But they lie.”

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