Basketball experience provides insight and inspiration for UTSA football coach

Before Jeff Traylor became a three-time state champion during a 15-year run at Gilmer, he knew his path to a football job in Texas would have to go through hardwood.

Basketball in many ways remains Traylor’s “favorite sport,” he said, and many of the lessons he learned as a coach and player are critical in his role as a leader of the UTSA in the field.

The sport also introduced him to one of his main coaching influences, UCLA legend and 10-time national champion John Wooden, and gave Traylor plenty of extra nourishment for his main hobby, reading. .

He also draws on the coaching techniques of some of the greatest of the modern era, studying the approaches of Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors.

Q: Do you have one favorite book?

A:
Probably Bill Walsh’s book on coaching (Finding the Winning Edge). All John Wooden, I miss nothing John Wooden. I’ve read all about John Wooden literally 100 times. I would say that where I most align myself in my beliefs is Wooden. Pretty much everything I get I just stole from Wooden. Trust the process, win the day, don’t focus on the outcome. Just the process and my secondary behavior. He always said the best coached teams, the coach does very little on game day. If you ever watched John Wooden train, he would cross his legs, roll a piece of paper, he would sit there all night and you wouldn’t know he was training, because all the work was done during the week. I really tried to model that on the sideline just on my demeanor and demeanor. I want people to look at me and almost say, ‘Well, is he doing something? What is he doing?’ Because first of all, I don’t want to attract attention. But two, I want the work done during the week. It’s all from Wooden.

Q: What introduced you to Wooden’s techniques, or how did you get the idea to model yourself after him?

A:
Well, I wanted to be a basketball head coach. That’s how I first became a head coach. I couldn’t be head football coach in Texas that soon. But I became a basketball head coach at a very young age, 23. I coached basketball for 10 years. He just lined up. He was a teacher and I love teaching. He was very spiritual, and I was raised that way. And I deepened my beliefs as I got older. And he was very successful, so I’m sure that too. I loved all the poetry. So many things. He was deep. He was a very deep man. And I loved John Wooden’s depth. Obviously, I didn’t know him, but everyone talked so much about him and his books. Anytime you have a belief in someone else that echoes what you believe, or maybe even take on some of the things they believe, that was just a natural alignment for me.

Q: Once you start feeling this alignment, is it a natural progression to consume everything about it for more lessons?

A:
Correct, and still to this day. Anything made of wood. I listened to a female basketball coach, and maybe she was at UCLA when she was young, and she asked him questions all the time. I even like to hear this second-hand knowledge. I love listening to Bill Walton talk about everything John Wooden said. I love all these guys. And I read a lot on Pop. Pop is a player’s coach, man. He loves his players. Steve Kerr, I’ve read a ton about these guys. I really like how Pop always defends his players, and Kerr talks about his players. I can’t speak for these guys, but it seems to me that they praise in public and criticize in private. I just take different things. I always watch and try to learn from everyone.

Q: I know basketball has always been important to you. How often do you still get the chance to play or watch hoops?

A:
In spring and summer we try to play once a week as staff. And whenever I can get Spurs tickets, I’m there, if I have a night. I love watching Spurs. I love basketball. I don’t know how many Spurs games I’ve played in. I should guess 20-30. I love going to their place. However, if I had to say which sport is my favorite sport, it’s probably that one, because everyone loved coming to practice basketball. My players have always done it. You play so many times during the week. Football, you do all this work, and you play only once. That’s what makes them so special. I understand. But in basketball, we had 30 to 35 games a year when I was coaching in high school, so we were able to coach and play a lot more.

Q: Did you play at a competitive level when you were younger or in high school?

A:
Yes, I loved to play. I always like to hoop.

Q: Were you good?

A:
I was. I still am, damn it! I’m just applying the COVID rules at all times. There must be social distancing on the head coach at all times. I need about 6 feet to be able to shoot, but I can still shoot it. Obviously, I don’t have the speed or skill level I used to have anymore, but I still enjoy shooting it.

Q: What position did you play in high school at Gilmer?

A:
I was a leader. I was a good player. We had a good team. I got better as I got older. But yes, I love doing the hoop. I still talk a lot of bullshit to all my players and to my coaches too.

Q: Did you make any meaningful playoffs?

A:
My junior year, we were 28-3 and were beaten by second in the state. And my last year, I was beaten again by the same team. Brownsboro two years in a row. But yes, we had a lot of talent at Gilmer. We weren’t a very good program, we were just talented. That’s why I wanted so badly to go home and try to help them, and I had to, 14 years later.

Q: Excluding Spurs to avoid any local bias, do you have any favorite players to watch today?

A:
Oh yeah, I’m a huge Steph Curry fan. It’s all about winning. Go get Kevin Durant and laugh at what anyone says. You won one before Kevin, you won one with Kevin, you won one after Kevin. I think that’s pretty cool. How he kisses Kerr. He’s the reason this team is going, because he’s spreading the message for Steve Kerr, so I have a lot of respect for Steph. I like guys who could score 40 points every game if they wanted to, but they’ll do whatever it takes to win the game. He’s probably my favorite player to watch. I would pay to watch him play.

Q: What are the big differences between basketball coaching and soccer? What skills translate from one to the other?

A:
I would say game management. It really helped me with that. In basketball, you have to do it all the time. It is clock management and game management at any time. With football, it goes much more slowly. There is plenty of time to reflect. It has to get very hectic in football before you find yourself in these situations, which is why you want to keep your timeouts in the second half. It’s always been a goal of mine to have all three. If I used one in the second half, it must have been really catastrophic for me to use it. That would probably be the biggest problem.

I really learned how to deal with skillful children. Your receivers are all basketball players. So you’re basically coaching receivers your whole life. It taught me how to deal with mood swings, selfishness and egos. “I want the ball and I want to score.” How to navigate these waters. It’s big. So how to deal with skillful kids, talented catchers playing basketball, clock management, and using time out would probably be my biggest talk.

And play a lot of players. I used to be the old five-in, five-out. I stopped doing that because it’s not very smart, but I thought it was at one point. But I played 10 on a list. If it was just certain roles that each kid got, they knew they were going to have a role on our team, and that led to morale and effort. When this book was written about me (Draw The Line by Hunter Taylor) one of the things that I loved was that a few basketball coaches commented on how they coached me in 1991, 92 , 93, and my football teams still looked like my basketball teams. They dive for every stray ball. They take loads. They bounce. They are selfless. They spread the ball. They keep the ground extended. We don’t pass up an open shot. We take this sucker. Just like my football teams. We play with a certain swag. And it did me good.

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Twitter: @GregLuca

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