For me, Bill Taylor was “that guy.”
When I walked into a local gym to watch a basketball game (when I wasn’t working) and was deciding where to sit, I usually had a strategy. If I saw Bill Taylor in that familiar spot in the northwest corner of the Creston Community High School gym, or the near southeast corner of the SWCC gym by the entrance, in a place where he coached so many games, that’s where I’d go if there was an open spot next to him.
Bill’s record as Southwestern head coach, at one of the schools with the smallest budgets in Region XI and located in a rural area 60 to 100 miles from urban clusters of schools, was 156-63.
“We may not have the most talent,” he once told assistant coach Jesse Cox, “but nobody will outwork us.”
Part of the reason I sought out Bill to sit by was the chance to “talk ball.” It was like a free coaching clinic, and I still dabble in middle school basketball coaching, now at Orient-Macksburg.
Bill was a lifelong learner of the sport he was taught by the late Dennis Tassell in Diagonal, and I think that passion rubbed off.
In fact, just a few years ago when former SWCC coach and current East Tennessee State University coach Steve Forbes was a presenter at the Iowa Basketball Coaches Association annual clinic in Des Moines, Forbes saw his former assistant in the audience.
“Bill hadn’t officially been a coach in how many years, but he’s right up there in front listening to stuff,” Forbes said. “I know I wasn’t saying anything he didn’t already know, but he was there because he loved it.”
After four years at SWCC, the first two as an assistant for Bill Krejci, Forbes made the first of many moves climbing the coaching ladder. His first stop was Barton County Community College in Kansas, a perennial juco power. One year Taylor brought SWCC to play at Barton County against his former boss.
“He came down to Barton and had me down at halftime,” Forbes said. “I was ticked at our guys and I told them at halftime, ‘We will NOT lose to these guys, do you understand!’ We ended up beating them, but like all of his teams, they played really hard.”
Forbes went on to work with some of the giant figures in college basketball, serving on staffs of Billy Gillespie at Texas A&M, Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State in between some of his head coaching positions. He has revived the East Tennessee State program and made the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
Yet, he remained in contact with Bill Taylor and always respected his input.
That was the one positive aspect of this whole horrible sequence of events, with Bill not being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer until mid-October and losing his life so soon on Nov. 7. There was so much re-connection going on this week, both at informal gatherings like A&G on Monday night and at the luncheon reception in the SWCC gym Tuesday afternoon after the ceremony.
As someone who helped to cover those teams 20 to 25 years ago for the News Advertiser, it was a blast seeing those players and former coaches who came back like Mike Morley, Les New, Todd Lorensen, Buck Scheel and Addae Houston from basketball, and many other coaches from other sports who dealt regularly with Taylor at SWCC.
There were also many local coaches and coaches with Diagonal ties.
“I’m not sure there’s ever been more basketball knowledge in that gym all at the same time than today,” said Creston Community Middle School Principal Brad Baker, who played at SWCC for Krejci.
In death, Bill Taylor brought people together from relationships that had been dormant for awhile. That was his gift to so many of us Monday and Tuesday.
Even though Taylor stepped down from SWCC coaching in 2002, Krejci told me a story about how Bill never really stopped coaching, especially as his own kids were growing up.
“I’d come into the gym on Sunday mornings after late Mass, and I’d hear a basketball bouncing,” Krejci said. “It was Bill with Colby. They had gone to early Mass and then would go out to the gym. Then later on, when Jenna was a little older, I’d hear two basketballs bouncing. He had Colby and Jenna both in there, and they weren’t horsing around. They were working. It’s no accident that they both became such great players.”
In Elks Hoop Shoot competitions, for example, the only boy in Iowa who beat Colby one year was Steve Alford’s son. And nobody in Iowa beat Jenna, who made it all the way to nationals in Springfield, Massachusetts at the site of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Those kids did the work, but the driving force was Bill. And, Joni kept things going as a family, always supportive in their activities as well.
Heck, as recently as Oct. 13, when Bill had been to the doctor but was awaiting MRI results, he led a shooting clinic in Lenox as a favor to Cox, his former assistant who is now the Lenox girls basketball coach.
“We knew he wasn’t feeling well, but he was out there coaching them up like he was in the national tournament,” Cox said.
As was mentioned by nephew Blair Taylor in quoting a social media post he’d read in the aftermath of Bill’s death, there was a philosophy that drove his uncle that is perfectly encapsulated in this quotation:
“Success is never an accident.”
It will be hard to look in those two spots in the Creston and SWCC gyms this winter and know that I can’t sit down and share news about our families, which he loved to do, and talk basketball. For those who were blessed to know Bill Taylor, we’ll all have to just hold on to those terrific memories and use them in our own quests to keep learning, and keep improving.
Because, that was the Bill Taylor way.
Contact the writer: