If Blaine Taylor is to ever leave Old Dominion, he may have to work on his interview skills.
"I remember talking to a (school) president that called me one time and tried to convince me that his job was better than the one I had," Taylor said. "I said, 'Quite honestly, you've never been here. You've never seen my arena. You don't know what Hampton Roads is like. You don't know the people here.' And I said, 'To tell you the truth, I think my team would kick your team's tail.' "
Though he could've have found a more schmooze-worthy way to say it, Taylor's teams have been besting opponents the majority of his time at ODU.
In his 10th season, Taylor became the Monarchs' all-time winningest basketball coach with a 49-34 victory against Northeastern on Wednesday night. The win gave him a 199-106 record, surpassing Bud Metheny's 198 victories in 17 seasons.
Taylor has produced seven winning seasons and two Colonial Athletic Association championships and joins Sonny Allen as the only coaches in ODU history to notch five seasons with 20 or more wins. Taylor's teams have won a startup postseason tournament (the Collegeinsider.com tournament in 2009) and knocked off Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season for its first such win since 1995.
In his first nine seasons since arriving at ODU in 2001 from Stanford, where he was an assistant for three seasons after leading Montana to three postseason appearances in seven years, Taylor compiled a .646 winning percentage and bagged a CAA coach of the year honor (in 2004-05). He's accomplished all that with the plainspoken demeanor that would-be employers may or may not take a shine to.
"One of the things I think my kids appreciate about me is I'm very, very straightforward and truthful," Taylor said. "I'm pretty candid about what's right and what's wrong."
Taylor also is quick with one-line zingers. Case in point: After Wednesday's historic, if offensively challenged, victory, senior forward Frank Hassell was asked if, as a 6-foot-9 bruiser on the low block, he prefers playing ugly games.
"You ever seen his prom dates?" Taylor interjected, breaking into his distinctive wheeze of a laugh.
Unfazed, Hassell replied, "They're a little cuter than that."
"He also has little jokes like that in practice," said Hassell, who, like most ODU seniors, has been in the program for five seasons after redshirting as a true freshman. "Some of his jokes are so outrageous and so funny, sometimes he catches himself and starts laughing. (But) when it's time to get his point across, he gets his point across."
Taylor's unique phraseology, steeped in his Montana upbringing, is as familiar to his coaching counterparts as his mix of zone of man-to-man defenses and emphasis on rebounding.
"That's my cowboy cousin," said Tom Pecora, who became a CAA head coach the same year as Taylor at Hofstra and is now in his first season at Fordham. "He's born in Montana, I'm born in Brooklyn, and we're good friends. (But) in the beginning, the funny thing was, he's so country, I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. I had to think about it a little bit, and then there was delayed laughter."
"Blaine is terrific to be around, a gregarious fellow, and never at a loss for words," James Madison coach Matt Brady said.
After his record-setting win, Taylor, his eyes welling with tears to prove his point, said: "I'm kind of a tough love guy, but there's a lot of love there. I have a pretty hard edge, but a pretty soft heart."
Opposing coaches say both sides of Taylor's nature — the fun-loving guy and the demanding taskmaster — are evident on the court.
"His teams are always very well-prepared," Pecora said. "They're always not only physically but mentally tough. You can't break them. There's no quit in them. I've never, ever seen a Blaine Taylor team lay down. And there's always wrinkles in what he does. He'll play you man-to-man every minute of the game and then come out of a timeout with a minute left and throw a zone at you, and have some fun doing it."
Pecora led Hofstra to four 20-win seasons in nine years, but went 8-11 against Taylor's Monarchs.
"I thought he got 199 (wins) years ago," Pecora said. "He beat us all the time. … There's great tradition at Old Dominion, but he has become the face of it."
Brady, who first went up against Taylor as an assistant at St. Joe's, is 1-4 against him since taking over at JMU in 2008-09.
"They don't beat themselves," Brady said. "In order to get a win versus Old Dominion, you're going to have to outplay them, and you're going to have to match their intensity. I'd like to think that you've got to outwork them, but that's a program that's hard to outwork. At least for a game, you've got to try and match their toughness."
William and Mary coach Tony Shaver also has found success against Taylor hard to come by, going 3-14 in seven seasons against his nearby rival.
"What he's done so well there is know how they want to play and recruit the athletes for that style of play," Shaver said. "He's a really good game-day coach and obviously is able to attract great talent there, and he puts that talent in position to be successful."
Shaver's Tribe fell to Old Dominion 60-53 in last season's CAA championship game. Before that, on Jan. 23, the teams staged a memorable clash in a sold-out Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg, with the Monarchs hanging on for a 58-55 win with first place in the conference on the line.
"Having our program somewhat on par — the game we played here, a sellout arena — to be in that position was great," Shaver said. "I think that's a position they've grown accustomed to."
It takes more than a good sense of humor to get there. Before Taylor's arrival, ODU had won just 24 games in Jeff Capel's last two seasons combined after winning 25 the previous season.
Taylor won 13 games in his first season and 12, including nine CAA contests, in his second before winning 17 in 2003-04. Twenty-eight wins followed the next season, and the Monarchs have failed to win at least 24 games in only one year (07-08) since.
Hassell and redshirt junior swingman Kent Bazemore say Taylor gets the most out of his players by constantly pushing them.
"You can't get complacent when you want to be great, and that's one thing he doesn't let me do," said Bazemore, who had 11 assists — and one turnover — on Wednesday. "He never lets me get complacent. At practice, he's going to talk about that one turnover all day, instead of the 11 assists."
When Hassell arrived at ODU in 2006 out of Indian River High in Chesapeake, "all I could do was rebound," he said. "I couldn't hit a free throw to save my life."
Taylor, Hassell said, rebuilt his free-throw form, got him into the weight room to improve his lax conditioning and refined all elements of his play in the post, including the hook shot that he uses to great effect in leading the Monarchs with 12.7 points per game this season.
"He told me he was going to push me like I've never been pushed before, and he was going to get on my behind and make me a better player and a better person, on and off the court," Hassell said.
Such testimony solidifies what Taylor's competitors and friends believe has given him such staying power.
"Success in this business, like a lot of others, can be superficial," Pecora said. "There's guys in our business who win games, and then there's guys who are successful. Guys who are successful win games and genuinely care about their kids, and Blaine obviously falls into that category. He's still an educator."
An educator who produces in his on-court classroom.
"To see where the program was when he first took it over till now, and to sustain the success that he's had at such a high level, is remarkable," Brady said. " We're all judged as coaches on winning and losing, and that's the bottom line.
"If you judge Blaine Taylor on wins and losses, then you've got to put him at the front of the line."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun