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'The best Trooper Taylor I can be'

AUBURN – It’s become part of Auburn’s football game day tradition – Trooper Taylor, his hat on backward, waving his towel, exhorting the crowd, chest bumping players as they leave the field.

Trooper Taylor says he is unfazed by criticism.

In the hallowed Green Room at the White House, Taylor chest bumped the President of the United States.

President Obama had praised the Auburn football team, there to be honored as the 2010 national champion. He was shaking hands with players and coaches when he got to Taylor.

“I wanted to just be me,” Taylor, Auburn's assistant head coach and wide receivers coach, said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview with “When I got to me, he was shaking hands with everybody. I said ‘Mr. President, I’d rather just have a chest bump if you don’t mind.’ He was just a good guy and said ‘I’d love to, Coach.’ It was a natural deal. He played basketball, he’s athletic and knows that’s how we celebrate.

“The funny thing was, when he first walked up to me before we got up on the stage, he knew my name. He said ‘I know you. You’re the chest bumper with the towel.’ I was impressed that he knew every coach, every one of us, and knew something about us. It was amazing how light-hearted he was and down to earth. I don’t know about the politics and all that kind of stuff, but he is really a good man.”

Taylor, Auburn’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach, left Oklahoma State to join the staff Gene Chizik was building at Auburn in January 2009. Two years later, almost to the day, he celebrated Auburn’s 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game.

Along the way, Taylor has been a lightning rod, drawing criticism from those who don’t like his gameday enthusiasm, as a point man in Auburn’s drive to becoming a national recruiting power. The criticism doesn’t faze him.

“Only if it comes from somebody I care about,” Taylor said. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinions. If it was my mom saying it, it would bother me. If it was somebody I’ve worked for or a coach I’ve played for, it would bother me. If it was a player that played for me, it would bother me. You can’t please everybody. The only thing I know how to be is Trooper Taylor. I’m going to be the best Trooper Taylor I can be.”

Taylor’s response is the same to the continuing insistence that Auburn, which has received no preliminary letter of inquiry, is under NCAA investigation. Auburn and the football program, he said, sell themselves.

“We know we didn’t do anything wrong,” Taylor said. “We know we made good decisions. When we recruit, we tell guys ‘Come here and see it. Be around our players. Be around our coaching staff.’ When they get to Auburn, it’s a feel they leave with. It’s nothing that can be taught, nothing that can be duplicated. It’s there.

“That’s what is amazing about Auburn. That’s what people don’t get until they come here. That’s why schools don’t want kids coming here to visit. They do anything they can to keep them from coming on this campus.”

More questions and answers from Taylor’s interview.

AUC: How meaningful was it to see Kodi Burns represent the team in making the presentation to the President?

TAYLOR: “He epitomized our football team. He epitomized what’s happening in this country right now, where you have to start thinking less me and more we. Kodi is the poster child for that. It was unanimous that it would be him. That’s why that team won games. We didn’t have the best players. We had the best team. It was less me and more we. When we were at the White House, they epitomized the same thing.”

AUC: With an inexperienced team, how do you answer a national championship season?

TAYLOR: “Players graduate, but the tradition never graduates. Auburn was a physical and was great before we got here. We are going to continue that same attitude of stopping the run and running the football. We are going to be a physical football team. The faces and the names are going to change, but the tradition is never going to change.
“The tradition of being physical, of work, hard work, were here before we got here and they’re going to be here after we are gone.”

AUC: What was it like for you to be on the field when Wes Byrum’s kick went through and Auburn had won the national championship?

TAYLOR: “It was unbelievable. There’s no greater feeling. I hope every kid gets the chance to experience that. It is a phenomenal, life-changing experience. A lot of people won’t understand, but my high school state championship was right up there with it. That was kids I grew up with in the neighborhood, and we went 16-0.”

AUC: How does winning the national championship change Auburn’s program?

TAYLOR: “I think the expectations. Auburn had gotten some raw deals, going undefeated and not getting a chance. It was a feeling of ‘We’ve done it. We’ve accomplished this.’ Now these guys have done it and they want it again. It’s not going to be 50 years again. I don’t know when, but it’s going to happen again. I think the guys from 1957 and the guys that went undefeated and didn’t win it all felt like a part of that. I think it’s very important.”

AUC: How has this coaching staff, with so many varied experiences, come together like has?

TAYLOR: “There was a method to his madness. It didn’t just happen. After Gene got the guys in he did know, he asked me ‘Who was the toughest guy you recruited against?’ I said ‘Tommy Thigpen.’ If Tommy Thigpen was a recruiting a kid, I hated to see him coming. Just like we approach recruiting, he approached getting the best staff. Are you going to ask Tommy Thigpen to leave North Carolina, his alma mater, and come to Auburn? Some coaches would have said he wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t have tried. Gene didn’t do that.

“That’s just like recruiting. Some people will say ‘So and so is recruiting him. You don’t have a chance.’ We don’t care who is recruiting him. We’re going to go after the very best. The other thing he wanted was good men and family men. Once we got those pieces together, the rest took care of itself.”

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