Joe Taylor, the new Howard University football coach, gathered his assistant coaches last winter for a meeting during which they contemplated the eight ways a team moves the football. Which way for Howard? Thunder from the brainstorm rattled windows up and down Georgia Avenue before Taylor said, "Deceit."
You can run straight at people, as Hogs do, or you can fly Smurf Air over them. But when you're the new coach at Howard and your offensive line is small and your running backs are slow, you realize the best way to move the football is through the deceit called misdirection.
You pull a lineman one direction, but you run the other way. About the time the defense figures that out, you change up and follow the blocking. All the time you have the passing game as an alternative that, if done well, will drive the defenders to a home for the terminally confused.
"We have to use misdirection plays," said Taylor, 33, elegant in his double-breasted blazer as he met the press over lunch yesterday. "We are going to deceive. We want to put the defense in the position where they think they know what we're going to do and then do something else."
The new coach added a word. "Hopefully."
For five years now, most everything about Howard football has been couched in qualifying words.
The school fired Doug Porter in 1978. That brought angry response from supporters of the coach, whose transgression seemed to be public criticism of Howard's athletic program for not delivering on promises.
In Floyd Keith's four seasons, Howard played competitively (for the most part) but endured controversies that included threats of player rebellions over alleged mistreatment condoned by the athletic department.
Keith resigned after last season's 6-5 campaign in which Howard won five of its last six games. He said the controversies had nothing to do with it. He recommended his defensive coordinator, Joe Taylor, as his successor. And yesterday at his press luncheon, Taylor began his remarks by singling out for thanks those members of the school administration, including Athletic Director Leo Miles, who had given him all the help a coach could want.
Can there be, oh diary, peace in our time for Howard football?
For now, anyway, sweet contentment is on the land as Taylor, all energy and enthusiasm, seems to promise bright football Saturdays for a university proud of its place in this community and nation. At least, it's fun so far just to hear the guy talk.
Taylor was, he says impishly, the defensive coordinator for nine of 11 games last year. He doesn't know who was in charge the successive weeks when Howard lost to South Carolina State, 50-0, and Florida A&M, 62-3.
As for this Saturday's opener against Liberty Baptist in Lynchburg, Va., Taylor says all he knows is that Jerry Falwell lives there. Falwell, of course, is a senior right-winger on the God squad.
Taylor won't make a prediction on this season, except to say, "If you're competitive for four quarters, good things should happen to you."
That is so basic it is a given most places, but not, Taylor says, at Howard. The team too often quit trying in the fourth quarter, he said.
"They weren't in the best of shape. That's why we're doing more weight training and more sprints. There was a feeling they just couldn't win. So they threw the towel in early. We can't have that around here anymore. That teaches a kid to give up in life.
"If you give up in the fourth quarter, you're going to give up in life. You'll give up on a bar exam, or you'll give up competing for a job. Everything in life you want, you have to compete for. You get knocked down. But you get back up. You don't quit in life and you don't quit in the fourth quarter."
Taylor is engagingly candid about his team. His judgments: the defense is first-rate, the offensive line is young and small, his running backs aren't fast, his very good receivers are small (and a wideout is slow), his quarterbacks will do the job well, and depth is such a problem that first-stringers will play special teams.
Howard's ultimate goal is to catch Florida A&M and South Carolina State, the scourges of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. "We'll be competitive before long," Taylor said.
The coach's immediate goal is more important. He wants his players to become people who like themselves. This came up yesterday when he was asked about his statement that Howard's players didn't believe in themselves last year.
"That's not a problem only here, it's a problem nationally. We get players from one-parent families, just a father or mother . . . The broken-home thing. Players think badly of themselves because of that. 'I'm not the same as everybody else.' They stand off by themselves, they think they're behind the eight-ball to begin with. You can see it in their classwork and on the field, that they don't believe in themselves.
"When we get them together, they see that 'my' problem is 'your' problem is 'his' problem. We're not that much different from each other. Then guys will let go of things they can't control--mom or pop being gone--and take care of what they can control, which is their lives. Guys who do that and work hard will be successful."