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Bengals-Jaguars to showcase brotherly rivalry -- and connection -- between Zac Taylor and Press Taylor

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor (left) and Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor (right) have leaned on their brotherly connection during their time in the NFL. (Courtesy of Julie Taylor)
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor (left) and Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor (right) have leaned on their brotherly connection during their time in the NFL. (Courtesy of Julie Taylor)

Perched on a wooden desk in Sherwood Taylor's Norman, Oklahoma, work office is the Taylor Bro Bowl Trophy. Engraved in gold on a black name plate are the dates, teams and scores of every NFL game the Taylor brothers have coached in against one another.

It's been one of Sherwood's treasured belongings since he had it made in 2017, a nod to how proud he is of his two sons: Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor. The trophy also underlines competition as a core pillar of the Taylor household.

Monday night's game between the Bengals and Jaguars in Jacksonville will mark the fifth edition of the Taylor Bro Bowl -- and it will be the most prominent and important battle yet. Both the 5-6 Bengals and 8-3 Jaguars are in the AFC playoff mix. The contest will be broadcast on national TV. And for the first time, both brothers are the offensive play-callers for their teams.

"It's a fun conversation point in our family. There's been a lot of trash talking about that trophy," Zac Taylor told me on the phone last weekend. "It doesn't come up much between me and Press anymore. We battle more on board games. But I definitely know what the record is."

Press, five years younger than Zac, laughed when I mentioned the trophy and chirped that he hopes his dad has it up to date. Press leads the series 2-1-1, with all four previous games coming when he was an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. On Monday, Zac can tie it up.

Left: Sherwood Taylor sits with sons Zac (left) and Press (right). Right: A trophy shows the results of each NFL game in which Zac and Press coach against each other. (Courtesy of Julie and Sherwood Taylor)
Left: Sherwood Taylor sits with sons Zac (left) and Press (right). Right: A trophy shows the results of each NFL game in which Zac and Press coach against each other. (Courtesy of Julie and Sherwood Taylor)

"I'd love nothing more than to beat my big brother. That didn't happen much growing up," Press told me last weekend. "But the trophy trash talk now is more between me and Zac's sons. In the summer, when I'm around my nephews, they give it to me if I lose, and I give it to them if I win."

Or, as Zac later put it: "It's Press talking trash to my kids more than anything."

The trophy will not be the immediate concern of Zac or Press on Monday. But there may be a quick moment before the game where they meet to soak in the rare privilege of facing each other as brothers with an iron-clad bond who worked their way up to earn spots at the top levels of NFL coaching.

It's surely a moment neither could have fathomed dreaming about 25 years ago in Trails, their Norman neighborhood, when the most important thing in the world was winning their 20-to-30-deep childhood pickup games of "cutthroat" football, basketball and baseball.

'He's my best friend'

The Taylor family's football obsession started with Sherwood Taylor, a former starting safety at Oklahoma in the 1970s and Kansas State assistant coach in the 1980s. Sherwood quit collegiate coaching to spend more time with his wife, Julie, and their growing family of athletes: Zac, Press and daughters Kathryn and Quincy.

Kathryn, who has Down syndrome, is a swimming star, having won at least 60 gold medals in local and state Special Olympics. Sherwood calls Kathryn "the heart" of their family. "How people treat her is how we treat them," Sherwood added. Quincy, the youngest, was an excellent high jumper who also ran track and played volleyball in high school.

When Sherwood began coaching Zac and Press on their youth football teams, the brothers' thirst for football knowledge led them to become quarterbacks. They both played at the collegiate level at Nebraska and Marshall, respectively.

Press said Zac was a much better QB and passer who had "10 times" the college career he did. There's one playing accolade the more athletic Press can hold over his older brother: He led Butler Community College in Kansas to back-to-back NJCAA national titles before heading to Marshall, while Zac lost in the title game in his only year at Butler. Press doesn't hesitate to bring it up to Zac.

Despite the playful ribbing, Press told me his pursuit to emulate Zac is what led him to a position calling plays into Trevor Lawrence's helmet from the Jaguars sideline.

"Zac is a role model that has done everything I wanted to do, and he did it the right way. If my brother hadn't been a coach, I don't know if I'd be a coach right now," Press said. "I was always a tag-along, annoying little brother growing up, then our friendship really grew. He's a mentor to me. He's the person I go to for advice. In terms of coaching, we are peers who bounce ideas off each other. But outside of my wife, he's my best friend."

"Our voices sound the same. We write the same. Some people would say we look the same. We're very similar in how we operate and coach." -- Zac Taylor, on his brother, Press.

During Press Taylor's first season as Jaguars offensive coordinator last year, the brothers had several conversations about what Zac did to establish an offensive identity in his first two seasons with quarterback Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Press was on a mission to unlock Lawrence's game, and he asked Zac for details about how he got the offense off the ground with Burrow. Their QBs and offenses are different, but Zac shared anecdotes with Press of how he learned what Burrow was comfortable with first and blended it with his own offensive philosophy.

This year, the Taylor brothers have used each other as a resource to game plan against defenses they both face. For example, they bounced ideas off each other about the defense of the Houston Texans -- whom the Bengals played in Houston on Nov. 12, and whom the Jaguars face twice per season -- and how to exploit the Texans in a specific situation. Both brothers made clear the resource-sharing isn't one-sided and only happens if it doesn't hurt either of their teams.

Zac also regularly calls Press to help him find a specific play from years ago if he wants to add a variation to his offense or help the Bengals prepare for an opponent. Zac marvels at Press' collection of tape, some of which dates back over a decade, to Press' days as an Eagles quality control coach -- some Philly coaching assistants called it "Press' vault."

"Our voices sound the same. We write the same. Some people would say we look the same. We're very similar in how we operate and coach," Zac said. "One difference: Press is very organized and detailed. I often move from one task to the other without getting off track."

Press, who has been credited by Doug Pederson as the architect of the Philly Special trick play that helped Pederson and the Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2017, said: "Tape, studying and organization are all things I can control. I've always been on the young side, so that's something used to offset my experience."

Startling similarities

Just like when they were kids, Press wants to follow Zac's path.

Press, 35, is a prime candidate to interview for head-coaching positions as soon as this offseason. His age and experience level will be similar to Zac's when the Bengals hired Zac to run the team in 2019. In fact, the parallels are startling.

Both Taylor brothers started coaching as college graduate assistants after their playing days, Zac at Texas A&M (where he worked for his father-in-law, ex-Packers coach Mike Sherman) and Press at Tulsa. Zac accompanied Sherman to the Dolphins when Sherman became their offensive coordinator in 2012, and Press was hired by the Eagles when Chip Kelly became their head coach in 2013.

Shared connections helped Press land in Philly. A former Nebraska teammate of Zac's -- Greg Austin -- was leaving Oregon, where Kelly had been the head coach, to join the Eagles as Kelly's assistant offensive line coach in 2013. Kelly asked Austin for candidates to fill the role of a quality control coach -- a young guy who could do a lot of work for a little bit of pay.

Austin called Zac and asked if his little brother, Press, would be interested.

"Zac told Greg, 'He better be,' " Julie Taylor recalled, laughing. "Press was a graduate assistant at Tulsa at the time, falling in love with his wife. Zac urged Press to take the job."

As Press remembers, "I immediately said yes. I didn't know what it was, but it was my route into the NFL. The year before, I stopped in to see Zac at the Dolphins facility on his last day of work before vacation. Chip was there. Zac and I had some time alone with him, and we started firing off football questions at him for 45 minutes. That was the first time I met Chip. The next time, I was going to work with him."

Paths in football often come full circle. Austin is now an offensive quality control coach with the Jaguars.

Zac and Press also both had uber-successful Super Bowl-winning head coaches as key advocates to help their ascension. After four seasons in Miami and one at the University of Cincinnati, Zac went to the Rams for Sean McVay's first year as head coach, in 2017 -- and Zac's star grew bright.

Following two seasons with McVay, one as assistant wide receivers coach and one as quarterbacks coach, the Bengals brought in the 35-year-old Zac as head coach in 2019. There were questions from critics about Zac's experience, which only got louder after a slow start in his first two years, but in 2021, he took Cincy to the first of back-to-back division titles and AFC Championship Game appearances, plus the franchise's first Super Bowl berth since the 1980s, proving he was ready.

Press' elevation came as a trusted associate of Pederson, first in Philadelphia -- where he stayed on staff after Pederson took over the head coaching role in 2016 -- and now in Jacksonville. Pederson showed his strong belief in Press, who spent 2021 with the Colts, then joined Pederson with the Jaguars in 2022, this offseason by giving him full-time play-calling responsibilities.

It's a duty Pederson enjoys and excels at, so the decision spoke volumes about what Pederson thinks of Press as a coach and offensive mind. The Jaguars rank 12th in the NFL in scoring offense coming off their best two offensive performances of the season, wins over Tennessee and Houston that gave them a commanding lead in the AFC South.

One example of Jaguars coaching adjustments under Pederson and Press Taylor has been the movement of Calvin Ridley into condensed formations to help him get free for explosive plays after defenses began to increase press coverage to stop him. Another example is the variety of play-action passes and man-coverage-beater passing schemes that have Lawrence ranked fourth in the NFL in expected completion percentage (67.3%) this season, per Next Gen Stats -- an indication they are setting him up for success.

As for Zac, he and his team were dealt devastating news after a loss to the Ravens two weeks ago, with Burrow suffering a season-ending wrist injury that threw a major wrench into Cincinnati's championship hopes. Press texted Zac after the game to check on him and Burrow's status, but Zac didn't respond until after the news was public.

In keeping with his persona, Zac showed zero public emotion and made no excuses. He declared the season wasn't over. Going into Monday's game, he told reporters this week: "What better way to go out there and change that narrative, in prime time, with our backs against the wall?"

'We'll be rooting for the offense'

Most weekends, Julie and Sherwood watch both Jaguars and Bengals games at their home. They have two TVs, in case the teams play at the same time. Sherwood says Julie is usually yelling at the TV within the first few minutes, and all parties agree she shows the most emotion during games. Like most moms, Julie hates to see anything bad happen to her kids. She texts them both love, encouragement and prayers before every game, and they wait for Zac and Press to call them afterward.

"If they lose, I listen to praise and worship," Julie said. "If they win, I listen to NFL Network."

But Monday night, the Taylor family will be in Jacksonville for the fifth edition of the Taylor Bro Bowl. It's hardest on the parents who know they will have to be excited for the winner and sad for the loser. Sherwood and Julie will sit in the Jaguars' section with Press' family, in a crowd of Jacksonville coaches' spouses. They won't do split jerseys, like the kind that the mother of Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce has worn when her sons face each other. Julie plans to wear black.

"We'll be rooting for the offense," Julie said. "I'll try to enjoy it, but it will be hard. I don't know how the Kelce brothers' mom did it so happily. I admire her."

Sherwood added: "I'll probably hate every minute of it. I don't get nervous, but I'm not looking forward to one of them losing."

Regardless of the outcome, the Taylor brothers' success can be viewed as a win for everybody in Norman, especially those in the Trails neighborhood that shaped Zac and Press.

Sherwood and Julie Taylor stand with Press (left) and Zac (right) before a game between the teams their sons coached for at the time: Press' Eagles and Zac's Dolphins. (Courtesy of Julie Taylor)
Sherwood and Julie Taylor stand with Press (left) and Zac (right) before a game between the teams their sons coached for at the time: Press' Eagles and Zac's Dolphins. (Courtesy of Julie Taylor)

Julie Taylor told me last week that for a decade straight, the Norman High starting quarterback came from the Trails neighborhood. A list of kids who participated in the pickup games of Zac and Press' childhood includes former Oklahoma and Lions receiver Ryan Broyles, former Sooners and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Mossis Madu Jr., former OU basketball starter and Houston assistant coach Kellen Sampson, former Wake Forest tight end and current Mississippi state athletic director Zac Selmon and former Sooners soccer star Jordan Gibbs, the daughter of longtime NFL coach Gary Gibbs.

Zac and his wife, Sarah -- daughter of Mike Sherman -- have four kids together: Brooks, Luke, Emma and Milly.

Zac had long sought out a cul-de-sac with plenty of kids for his family, to give them a bit of what he had growing up. They struck out a few times. Before they bought their current home, Zac and his son, Brooks, walked the neighborhood, counting all the basketball hoops, a sign that kids were present. They saw eight or nine, and said, Perfect. Now, Zac's kids play neighborhood pickup games.

Press also has four kids with his wife, Brooklyn: Teale, Carolina, Woods and Billy. Just like his brother Zac and their parents -- two boys and two girls.

"I love football. I'm obsessed with football. But it won't come close to family. That's how my parents treated it -- family then football -- it was the model for us," Press said. "There's no doubt I want to replicate our childhood."

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