Notre Dame men's basketball: Iowa’s Taylor answers family call Mutual respect

South Bend Tribune

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Reconnecting with someone he considers family helped former Notre Dame forward and assistant Billy Taylor recharge his coaching batteries.

Following a six-year stay as head coach at Ball State where he finished 84-97, Taylor was fired last spring by athletic director Bill Scholl, who also worked in athletic administration at Notre Dame during Taylor’s time on campus.

Taylor spent the first few days and weeks afterward pondering what he should do next. Should he take a year off from coaching and decompress? Get back in right away, but uproot his wife and kids from Muncie? Did he even want to stay in the profession after 11 seasons as a head coach? Taylor also spent five seasons (2002-07) as head coach at Lehigh.

Then an offer arrived in early August that Taylor simply had to take.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery needed to fill a spot on his staff for a director of basketball operations and Taylor was the first person he thought of who could fill it. Though it was an administrative role instead of a coaching position, Taylor jumped at the chance to be reunited with McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, also a Notre Dame graduate who served as a team captain on the Irish women’s team.

“I wanted to be careful in the situation that I put my family in, but when the opportunity came to be here with Fran, it was a no-brainer,” Taylor said Monday from his office at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It’s helped me clear my head while still working and actively engaged with the team.”

McCaffery and Taylor have a history that dates back to the early 1990s. McCaffery, who spent 11 seasons as an Irish assistant, recruited Taylor out of Aurora, Ill., to attend Notre Dame. They spent the 1998-99 season together on former Irish coach John MacLeod’s staff before Taylor followed McCaffery to North Carolina-Greensboro, where he worked for three seasons as his lead assistant.

The 40-year-old Taylor is the godfather of McCaffery’s son, Patrick.

“To come somewhere where you feel like you’ve got family, that’s really huge and really helped us settle in,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to make this the rest of my career, but for where we are right now, it was a great fit and great timing.”

During the week, Taylor handles many of the administrative duties — travel, accommodations, weekly schedules, etc., — of the Iowa program. During games, Taylor sits halfway down the Hawkeye bench. He’ll offer encouraging words to players and give his input to the coaching staff during timeouts and at halftime, as he did Tuesday when No. 23 Iowa faced his alma mater in the 15th-annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

He’s also been around McCaffery long enough to know what to say and when to say it.

“I know what he’s thinking and how he wants things done — what’s going to help him in this moment during a timeout or halftime,” Taylor said. “Whatever it is that I can help make his job easier.”

Recruited to play for former coach Digger Phelps, Taylor averaged 5.1 points and 2.6 rebounds in 112 career games at Notre Dame (1992-95). He was a team captain his senior season.

Mutual respect

The relationship between McCaffery and Irish coach Mike Brey started when both were high school basketball standouts — Brey in Maryland and McCaffery in Philadelphia — and they attended the same summer camp (Howard Garfinkel’s Five-Star Camp).

Both have spent their summers in the same gyms watching AAU tournaments and recruiting the same kids — Brey, when he was an assistant at Duke, and McCaffery, when he was at Notre Dame. Their paths continued to cross on the summer circuit as head coaches.

Tuesday was the first time they coached against one another.

“A good friend and a guy I really admire,” Brey said.

Having spent 11 seasons coaching at Notre Dame, McCaffery knows how tough it is to recruit the right kind of student-athlete to the school, and knows how unforgiving a league the Big East can be. That’s why he’s been beyond impressed at what Brey did with Notre Dame the previous 13 seasons in the Big East.

Before moving last summer to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Brey finished as the fourth all-time winningest head coach in the Big East behind only Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Jim Calhoun (Connecticut) and John Thompson (Georgetown).

Notre Dame was the only school in the monster league to earn four consecutive trips to the conference tournament semifinals. While McCaffery was at Notre Dame, the Irish never won so much as a league postseason game.

“The thing that’s most impressive is you look at the program since Mike’s been there,” McCaffery said. “They have clearly been the model of consistency. That is so hard to do today, it really is, especially playing the competition they’re playing.

“There are very few coaches in the profession I respect more than Mike.”

Under pressure

Tuesday’s early-season conference challenge is still somewhat new to Notre Dame. Though a member of the Big East for 18 years, the Irish competed in the Big East/SEC Challenge only twice, with Kentucky the opponent both times.

“This one is the high-profile challenge,” Brey said. “We want to carry our weight in the new league. You feel some pressure because you want to carry the flag and represent the league.”

The ACC won the challenge each of the first 10 years since it started in 1999 and leads the all-time series 10-3-1.

Good move

Coming out of West Aurora (Ill.) High School as class valedictorian in 1991, Taylor chose to attend Notre Dame five years before the school joined the Big East, which it did the year after (1996) Taylor graduated.

If he had the chance to do it all over again — attend Notre Dame with the opportunity to play in the ACC — Taylor would do it in a minute.

“Being a part of the ACC is a tremendous fit; I’m so happy,” Taylor said. “The value it brings to the ACC from an educational standpoint and a relationship standpoint are fabulous. It brings something unique compared to the other schools out East.”; 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame guard Eric Atkins, left, drives past Iowa guard Mike Gesell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa.