Long before he was leading Lipscomb to Atlantic Sun glory, head coach Bill Taylor was building a power running program at Northwest University outside of Seattle. Taylor turned a small-school program into a national NAIA power that won the 2002 NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championship.
In March, Taylor’s 2002 team will be inducted into the Northwest University Athletic Hall of Fame. Though not the culmination of a coaching career, it’s another in a satisfying line of honors for Taylor.
“When I took the Northwest job, I declared that we would win a national title,” Taylor said. “People laughed at me. It took a while, but we proved it could be done. The goal is the same now at Lipscomb.”
Taylor has been coaching since 1990, when he picked up a job at Lake Stevens (Wash.) High School, his alma mater. He left there after two years for a short stint at Westmont (Calif.) College before returning to the Washington.
“When we moved back, I had a huge desire to coach collegiately,” Taylor said. “So I started contacting community colleges and four-year colleges that didn’t have programs to see if they would let me start one. I’m not sure why I did that instead of just volunteering at a college that already had a program.
“At the time, Northwest had been talking about adding another sport. Since cross country is the cheapest sport to add, I was brought in to create the program from scratch.”
Taylor’s beginnings at Northwest were humble, to say the least. A small Bible college in the upper northwest, the Eagles were a member of the NCCAA (National Christian College Athletics Association) when Taylor was hired in 1994.
“We had very old facilities when I first started there,” Taylor said. “A new soccer and volleyball coach were hired when I was. We didn’t have offices at the time, so we found an empty supply closet and an old desk on a junk heap and converted it into an office for all three of us.
“That was the beginning of my collegiate career, and there I was predicting a championship. I think people were right to laugh at me at that time.”
Slowly, Taylor started building a power. Northwest moved to the NAIA in 1997-98, just as the program was taking off. Over the next five years, Northwest would become an NAIA power.
Although the 2002 team brought the school its first championship in any sport, it wasn’t an easy road. The 2001 team entered the national championships ranked first in the nation, but stumbled to a seventh-place finish.
“We were crushed after the 2001 finish,” Taylor said. “I got too wrapped up in winning a title and lost sight of my coaching philosophy. The best thing that happened to my coaching career was not winning the title in 2001; it reset me and brought me back to why I was a coach in the first place. And as it turned out, the world didn’t end when we lost. That gave me new perspective.”
The 2002 season was a different story. A more relaxed group led by a more relaxed coach brought the school its first-ever national championship.
“I got into coaching to help kids,” Taylor said. “I love to win, but that’s not why I became a coach. We talked about rankings a lot in 2001; I never posted a ranking in 2002. We spent more time talking about getting better and running races the same way. Nationals was just another race for us that year.”
Even though Taylor acknowledges that recruiting and winning on the Division I level is different from the NCCAA/NAIA level, many of the values he instills in his Lipscomb programs are born from his time at Northwest.
“It’s easier to recruit at the Division I level,” Taylor said. “While the process is easier here, we were doing the same things at Northwest. I learned quickly that you build a program on character. You’d like to get the fastest kids you possibly can but at the end of the day it’s more about getting the right fit.
“We looked for people that believed, would work well together and were growing spiritually at Northwest. Now at Lipscomb, we’re looking for the exact same kind of kids.”
Following the 2004 season, Taylor resigned from his post at Northwest; he took two years away from coaching on the college or high school level, doing a bit of work via e-mail with former Northwest star Kristina Proticova but staying away from coaching in the interim.
“Our first daughter (Bella) was born in April of that year,” Taylor said. “So I stayed home with her and tried not to think about coaching. I was a bit burnt out and didn’t know if God wanted me to continue to coach.
“Late in that year, I was reading the book “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge, and it talked about how if you have something good on your heart and it stays there loud and clear and doesn’t go away, you should consider it as God’s voice and direction. It’s on your heart and you should be obedient. And coaching was still on my heart; it hadn’t left me.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt it was time to get back in to coaching.
“At the same time I was realizing I should go back to coaching, my wife Tabetha came to me and said she had been praying and felt it was time for me to get back into coaching,” Taylor said. “She had previously not wanted me to go back to coaching, because it’s a difficult life sometimes. So it was clear what we needed to do, if not how we needed to do it.”
Getting back into coaching would prove to be more difficult.
“I wanted to coach in Division I,” Taylor said. “We had created a unique athlete-centered program at Northwest, and it wasn’t being utilized at Division I. I wanted to prove we could make that work at this level. Unfortunately, breaking into the Division I level is hard to do.”
Undaunted, Taylor e-mailed Division I coaches all over the country asking if they had any positions for graduate assistants or volunteer coaches. After receiving responses and praying, he and his wife chose to relocate to Nashville, where Belmont was offering a volunteer coaching position.
“We sold most of our stuff, put the house on the market and prepared to move to Nashville,” Taylor said. “We had no idea how we were going to make it work, without jobs other than volunteer coaching and no place to live.
“The very next day, Tabetha got a call from a job she didn’t even remember applying for… in Nashville! Within the month, she was offered the job and accepted.”
When Lipscomb began searching for a new coach for its cross country and track programs in 2007, one of the first candidates for the job was Lipscomb grad Willie Steele. Steele, who had just taken a teaching job, didn’t know if he could give that up and gave Lipscomb Taylor’s name. Taylor had left Belmont by then and was searching for his next coaching opportunity.
“I was hired on an interim basis while Willie made his final decision,” Taylor said. “When he let them know he couldn’t take it, I was offered the position permanently. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Since taking over at Lipscomb in 2007, Taylor has built the Bison brand into one of the best teams in the Southeast. In addition to being the newly-minted A-Sun champions, both the men and women’s track programs were named academic All-American programs by the USTFCCCA last year.
Taylor says the best thing about his coaching is the memories of his teams.
“At the end of the day, winning championships won’t stay with you,” Taylor said. “When I go back for the induction, we won’t reminisce about how fun it was to win a title; we’re proud of it and wouldn’t give it away for anything. But the value of coaching is the stories and memories of your teams.
“It felt great to win the title. It was a tremendous accomplishment, but it was more about the team, the relationships and the stories we had. The national championship was a bonus.”