Joe Taylor, Howard University's new head football coach, said yesterday his first priority will be to re-establish communication among the administration, coaching staff and players.
"Last year, communication here between everyone was a bit . . . clogged," said Taylor, the defensive coordinator under Floyd Keith, who resigned last week. "I want to reopen all those channels of communication. We have to get everyone involved with the team on the right track immediately. And communication is the big word."
Taylor shouldn't have problems in that area with the players, the majority of whom said they were pleased with his appointment.
"Most of the fellows are very happy about the change," said Jeff Owens, the starting fullback who was red-shirted after breaking his thumb. "We're looking forward to playing for him next year. Coach Taylor made a big change on our team. I played under Coach Keith for two years and I didn't particularly like him. I never would go to to him with a personal problem. I would have no problem going to Coach Taylor."
"The change is definitely better all the way around," said linebacker Martin Brown. "We have confidence in Coach Taylor and support him all the way."
Athletic Director Leo Miles got many calls and resumes about the opening but only Taylor, 32, had a lengthy interview.
"We were in the midst of recruiting and Keith's action was so sudden, we had to select someone quickly," said Carl Anderson, vice president for student affairs. "We have an advisory committee but we didn't interview anyone. Mr. Miles had a long session with Mr. Taylor and recommended him to us. We had no problem accepting the recommendation."
Keith has accepted an assistant coaching position at Indiana University. At Howard, although his players showed marked improvement in academics, Keith's disciplinary and coaching methods were met with resentment by some players and administrators. His teams compiled a 23-17-2 record.
"Coach Keith showed me a lot of football, particularly on offense," Taylor said. "I have no bad words to say about Keith. I respected him for what he did for the university. I think, at times, he wasn't understood and vice versa. I've worked under four head coaches and each one had his strengths and weaknesses."
Taylor believes one of his strengths is the ability to motivate players.
"I'm not promising a lot of victories, but Howard will be competitive," Taylor said. "I know the limitations and I can work within that . . . I see enough here to win with."
Taylor was an offensive lineman at Cardozo and Western Illinois before working as an assistant at H.D. Woodson for five years under Bob Headen. He was an assistant at Eastern Illinois for two seasons and Virginia Union two seasons before coming to Howard last year.
"I owe him (Headen) a lot. He got me out of the halls and on the football field," Taylor said. "I would offer him a position here, but he's so settled at Woodson, he might not be interested or he might feel awkward working as an assistant."
(Headen, whose team was ranked first in the final Washington Post poll this past season, said yesterday he would consider a position at Howard.)
Taylor said the only assistant he would recommend Miles retain is Tom Seward, who worked with the defensive line. Taylor himself will probably double as offensive coordinator.
"I've heard from a lot of people but I haven't picked anyone yet," he said. "We'll have our staff by spring practice."
Taylor met with the team yesterday to thank them for their support and outline a prespring practice plan.
"I'm pleased with the nucleus of players coming back," Taylor said. "I plan to look at every position and I can't say if the guys will play where they were last year . . . Right now, I have to get out and finish my recruiting. We can only sign 20 this year and we don't want to lose anyone."