Kurt Traylor was hired a little over a month ago to be the 12th head coach for Robert E. Lee football. He replaced Clayton George, who resigned right after spring football after a 2-8 season in his one year in charge. Traylor comes to REL from Gilmer where as an assistant, he helped win three state championships and reach at least the state semifinals six times, including last year. He now hopes to emulate that success with the Red Raiders, who are two years removed from the playoffs, but haven’t won more than five games in a season since 2009.
He sat down and talked with the Tyler Morning Telegraph this week and was asked how things are progressing during summer lifting and conditioning, and what he envisions for this season and the future for Lee.
TMT: Coach, what were your first impressions when you got to Lee in your first weeks at the school?
Traylor: I am a kid-driven coach, it’s all about the kids; and the kids have been unbelievable. The way they accepted me, my staff, my family; the kids just have been busting their tails and showing up to work. They have done everything we’ve asked. Kids are like banks: the more you invest in them, the more you can withdraw and we are just investing every day. That’s what I love about this place. They’re hungry; the kids are hungry. They are buying into the culture we are building.
TMT: When you arrived, what were some of the things you liked and some of the things you didn’t like as far as the football program?
Traylor: I honestly have not asked anyone on the staff what they did before, I am just coming in and doing it my way. Our way has been pretty successful for 17 years at Gilmer, Texas. I want to change things. I want it to look different. I want it to sound different, I want it to taste different - I am not saying it was a negative place, but when you’ve had three head coaches in four years, there’s no consistency. These kids don’t know what consistency is. I mean one year they are wearing Adidas, one year it’s Under Armour and one year it’s Nike. I am big into that. I want it to be consistent. I tell the kids every day: take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.
TMT: Are you looking to do a new uniform or colors? Last year the home uniforms were red, white and grey?
Traylor: They ordered a new black jersey last year and it’s good looking. I love black. I love black and red. That’s a good combination.
TMT: Offseason-wise, what was happening when you arrived?
Traylor: We went from zero. We didn’t ask what the other staff did because we didn’t care. When you set up an offseason like we’ve set up in Gilmer the last few years, we wanted to get the kids big and strong during the offseason, and that is (when the season) ends to the last day of school. We use the summer more for conditioning. Maintain your strength, but let’s get ready for football. Before that, we were leaning our kids up in the offseason because we’d lift hard, but then we’d go out and run the (mess) out of them, and they were getting leaner, but not stronger. All of their energy was being used on the track, so we decided to (try this and it has worked).
TMT: Last year Lee struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter. The Red Raiders were 2-8, but were in almost all of those games until the final minutes. How can you turn that around and turn those losses into wins?
Traylor: Come watch us on Tuesday and Thursdays. In our weight room, we do four quarters. We are talking about finishing, about beating your opponent that quarter and we do a little circuit lifting drill. The coaches are in the middle of it. First quarter ends and the whistle blows and we all gather up and the coach either gives them a thumbs up or down by the intensity of the way they’re lifting. … And we play an opponent. We play Marshall and we play Corsicana in our weight room. Teaching them to finish the deal. Win every quarter. You lose the first quarter, you better rebound and get it back in the second quarter. We are trying to fix (the fourth quarter letdowns) that by implementing it in our weight room.
TMT: At Gilmer you had two-a-days whereas Lee has spring football, so no two-a-days and one less week to prepare for your opener Sept. 1 at Marshall. How do you handle that?
Traylor: It is what it is. I just have to hit it on the fly. Hit it on the run. We just have to have a plan and be sharp. It’s tough trying to implement a new offense with new terminology.
TMT: How is incoming senior quarterback Chance Amie adjusting to the new offense?
Traylor: He’s learning it (quick). In spread offense, football is football. What one staff calls a corner route, another may call it something else, but it’s still the same and Chance gets it. He’s so smart. It’s his third offensive system. What I’ve learned in the coaching tree is to keep it simple. The bigger the game, the simpler the game plan. When we played for a state championship, it was the simplest game plan we had all year because, No. 1, the kids are going to be nervous in front of a big crowd. And if the kids don’t know it, it doesn’t matter what we know as coaches, it’s going to look (bad). We are going to keep it simple, do what the kids know and the offense is going to function off the players we have.
TMT: What about the defensive side of the ball?
Traylor: I brought a guy over with me from Gilmer (to coach defense). Coach Robinson. He knows what I like and what I want to do. I think people will be surprised with the way we play. I want to see the kids right now just show up and compete and be consistent. Not just one day. Be consistent every day.
TMT: Are you starting to see some players emerge as the team leaders?
Traylor: You have to teach kids how to lead these days. Some of them naturally know how to do it. You always hear, ‘Leaders are here early and they do this and this.’ My mind is you should be doing that anyway. Leaders get here at 6:45. No. Everyone gets here at 6:45. Leaders go above and beyond. That is different for different people. We are going to form a leadership council and they drive the team. We’ll meet on certain days after workouts and sit down and discuss. They are going to have input on for instance: Coach, let’s wear this color this week, or let’s do this different. When they have ownership in it, it means a whole lot more to them. So I want them to have ownership. It’s not going to happen overnight.
TMT: Does winning create that kind of leadership and harmony?
Traylor: There is a quote I like and you are going to hear it a million times: It’s not about the fruit, it’s about the roots. We want to work and dig our roots. Just like a bamboo tree. If you ever study about it, the bamboo tree takes five years before it even grows because it’s developing roots. Don’t talk about the fruits. At Gilmer, Texas, we never talked about the fruit. We just talked about how hard we were going to work and the fruit (would come). I don’t want to hear about the fruit. Give me the roots. Let’s start digging, boys. Let’s work.