July 18, 2016
With a name like Dan Taylor, and a spectacularly unique story of international travel that’s merged with special intersections to land him on The Flats, Georgia Tech’s newest strength and conditioning coach has a tale that might be movie worthy. But no, the men’s basketball players don’t call him, “Lieutenant Dan.”
The Yellow Jackets keep it simple. Most weren’t even born when a notably crusty Taylor found fame as Forrest Gump’s commanding officer in the 1994 film, and besides, this Taylor is not grumpy like that one.
“We call him DT. He’s just been great,” senior Quinton Stephens said. “He really listens to the guys because we all want to get better … We just have a comfortable relationship with him.”
Taylor’s trail has not been comfortably straight.
A native of England, he traveled to the United States nearly two decades ago with a plan: to play college basketball in order to prepare for professional careers back in Europe as a player and then a coach.
That didn’t work out.
First, at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., he met Erin.
Then, he majored in history upon transferring from that junior college to Division II Franklin Pierce University, in Rindge, N.H.
Add the key fact that even though he’s 6-foot-7, his basketball skills did not fetch substantial pro offers in Europe as graduation approached, and the plan changed.
“I had a couple offers to go overseas, but they weren’t great,” Taylor said. “I was going to get married, and life changes, so I kind of changed course. My last few years in New Hampshire, I found a lot of value in the strength side.
“We didn’t have a strength coach, but all the guys on the team kind of organized it, and we enjoyed doing it. I realized how much it impacted everything I did, and the camaraderie, so I wanted to do that. I came [to the U.S.] for basketball and ended up staying for my wife, which is a phenomenal reason.”
Erin would play a bigger role in his choice of profession than his history degree as his options were limited. He resisted a suggestion to go to law school, and, “[Others] said, ‘You should teach.’ But I think teaching is one of those things that is a calling; you have to really want to teach and do it well.
“The third thing was to work in museums as a curator or something. That’s a hard career to get into if you don’t have internships and haven’t done things to get into it (as an undergraduate).”
At the urging of his wife, Taylor soon began interning – sort of – in strength and conditioning as he and Erin moved back to her hometown in the state of New York when he was working at a Gold’s Gym in the fall of 2003.
“My wife is infinitely smarter than me, and we had this discussion one day. [She said], ‘You need to make a decision. There is no meeting in the middle [between history and training],’” he recalled. “At the time it was young athletes, health and fitness, weight loss, cardiac rehab, it was everybody, general population.”
Plugging away at his new job, Taylor decided to make a career of it.
“In 2004 was the Olympics in Athens, and like all gyms, we had TVs everywhere,” he said. “I’m watching the Olympics, which I love, and that’s when I knew that all the fitness stuff was great, but I really wanted to get back in athletics. I wanted to work with athletes. It was sort of a crystallizing moment.
“That involved higher education, certifications, meeting people specializing more in athletes and less in general population.”
Taylor consulted professionals in strength and conditioning, including those at nearby SUNY-Albany, and began pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science through the California University of Pennsylvania.
Plus, he began volunteering, first at Saint Rose.
“My wife is from the area that Siena College is in, and the gym was in the area,” Taylor explained. “I ended up taking on women’s basketball, the golf team and some tennis at Siena in the fall of 2006. By fortune, the head guy there – really the only full-time guy– left, and because I was there and pretty good, I had a chance to become the full-time guy in the spring of ’07 and was there.”
Taylor added a second master’s degree with a focus on strength and conditioning from Edith Cowan University (Australia), and is working toward a Ph.D. in performance psychology at Grand Canyon University.
He spent nine years at Siena, nearly detouring when new Tech head coach Josh Pastner talked to him about an opening at his former school.
“I interviewed at Memphis, and we hit it off. I think I came in second,” Taylor said. “We sort of stayed in touch. When he was fortunate enough to get the job here, I reached out to congratulate him, and I said, ‘If there’s an opportunity, I would like to help you build something down there.’ ”
Less than two months after Pastner was hired at Tech in April, Taylor came on board. He’s working with men’s basketball and men’s tennis, taking over after Mike Bewley, who took a position with the men’s basketball team at Clemson.
Taylor consulted with his predecessor, and jumped right in with a young squad.
He’s about more than lifting weights. The Jackets are being trained not only to be stronger and in some cases bigger, but to better equipped for their sport.
“I think the end product, the end result, is where you start,” he explained. “I think sometimes strength professionals get too hung up on numbers and the things that happen in the weight room. If you don’t constantly refer back to what’s happening on the floor, you lose track of what you’re doing.
“I played basketball, and I look at everything from a basketball perspective. If we get a young basketball player to squat 500 pounds, but for whatever reason he’s not a quick jumper or an explosive jumper, that 500 pounds means nothing.”
The Jackets work on many things, and they do it differently. Junior center Ben Lammers is working on getting off the floor with more force.
“Some guys are more powerful, and some are more quick jumpers,” he said. “One day [Taylor] will have the hurdles set up, and guys who need to quick jump will jump over those. Me and [Abdoulaye Gueye] and some other guys are doing the power stuff.”
Taylor absorbs feedback from all the student-athletes and coaches alike in designing programs for each young man.
“If you don’t get too dogmatic with what you’re doing, you’re going to get a better result,” he said. “It could be a band squat where you’re squatting into elastic, or squat with chains, constantly referring to how they play.
“That takes a critical eye … conversation with coaches and players. The way coach Pastner plays is very fast, very up and down. It’s important to make sure we’re strong, but move really well.”
Stephens likes the way summer is going.
“He asks us what we want to get better at,” said the swing man. “I’m working to get more explosive, and quicker with my first step. There are different drills for that, and I’ve already begun to notice results. I feel more springy. I definitely feel more explosiveness, and my first step is a lot better.”
Each player’s plan may be different, yet they share common purpose.
“We’re all going to do movement stuff, we’re all going to do core stuff, we’re all going to do power stuff, we’re all going to do strength stuff, we’re all going to do conditioning stuff,” Taylor said. “They’re all going to need those five and more.
“If they look on the floor in March like they did in October, then I’ve done my job properly. The floor is the most important thing at all times. Coach [Pastner] will give me his opinion, and that’s the most valid opinion out there.”
Taylor’s travels have expanded his horizons, and he wants to expand his plans.
“At a place like Georgia Tech, this is a phenomenal technical school, so there’s a very good exercise physiology department on campus. I want to try to network with them … can we have a sports science division?
“I think the capacity to do what I do here from a physiological and even psychological standpoint is incredible. My friends, I tell them it’s kind of like going to fantasy camp for strength coaches.”