Taylor brothers Zac, Press square off in MNF coaching duel

CINCINNATI -- Kendric Pryor was confident he would spend his rookie season with head coach Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although he was among the final training camp cuts in 2022, the wide receiver planned to sign with the practice squad. When the time came to put pen to paper, the situation shifted. The Jacksonville Jaguars, with first-year offensive coordinator Press Taylor, claimed Pryor off waivers and added him to the 53-man roster.

When Pryor arrived in Jacksonville, he was greeted by a familiar face, even if he couldn't immediately place it.

"When I first saw Press, he was like, 'Yeah, you got the good-looking brother now,'" Pryor told ESPN.

Monday night's game between the Bengals and the Jaguars (8:15 ET, ABC/ESPN) will serve as the latest family reunion for the Taylors, and a reminder how far they've come. The two brothers who grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, went from Division I quarterbacks to entry-level assistants to now holding two of the most prominent jobs in football.

With quarterback Joe Burrow behind center, Zac, 40, has helped the Bengals to a Super Bowl bid and back-to-back AFC North titles. Meanwhile, Press, 35, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence are poised to win the AFC South for the second straight year and make a run at the team's first Super Bowl appearance.

But to those who know them best, their journeys to the top of the profession aren't a surprise.

"As they came through the coaching ranks and playing ranks it was just natural for them to move on and become great coaches," said Colorado State coach Jay Norvell.

THE TAYLOR BROTHERS' father, Sherwood Taylor, was a defensive back at Oklahoma from 1977 to 1979. Shortly after his playing days ended, Sherwood began a coaching career that featured a stint as a Kansas State assistant from 1984 to 1986. But as Zac and Press grew up, he shifted that energy from other players to his sons.

In the fifth grade, Zac told Sherwood he wanted to play college football. In the following years, Sherwood laid out the blueprint for Zac to accomplish that goal. For instance, seven days before two-a-days started in high school, Sherwood started his own early "training camp" for Zac and some of his teammates. And drills that started out with 15 kids quickly shrunk to two in a matter of days.

"The next day is just me and my brother," said Zac, who credited his father for building the foundation for his athletic career. "I was making him come out there with me. [Sherwood] knew what it took, and I think that's why my brother and I got scholarships."

Zac began his college career at Wake Forest, where he stayed for two years before transferring to Butler Community College in 2004 and then on to Nebraska a year later. Press signed with Butler in 2007.

Zac said Aaron Flores, his offensive coordinator at Butler, is the one who instilled confidence in him as a college quarterback; they went on to win back-to-back junior college national championships together.

In 2020, Flores told ESPN the support they had from each brother and their family was apparent during their respective tenures at Butler. And in the midst of trying to establish themselves as college quarterbacks, they had traits that showed why they could be top-level coaches one day.

Said Flores, who died in 2021 from complications from COVID-19: "Both of them brought so much to the quarterback room that we never had issues amongst the room with either one leading our team and the other quarterbacks understanding their role."

NORVELL STILL REMEMBERS Zac's response vividly.

As a Cornhuskers assistant in 2005, Norvell was recruiting Zac from Butler to Nebraska. He asked Taylor what he hated most about football.

"He never even hesitated. He looked me in the eye and he says, 'Coach, I hate losing,'" Norvell said. "And as soon as he said that, I knew he was our guy."

Zac signed with the Cornhuskers, the longtime rivals of his beloved Oklahoma Sooners. Nebraska was trying to transition from decades of running the triple-option offense to a West Coast scheme under coach Bill Callahan. The offense involved a lot of shifts and motions. The meetings and installation of the game plan was also pro-style in nature.

"He gobbled it all up," Norvell said. "I think that really gave him a foundation of what pro football was like and how to present an offense."

In two seasons with the Cornhuskers, Zac threw for 5,850 yards and 45 touchdowns and was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. He credited his time with Norvell and Callahan for steering him into coaching.

"They taught me so much, it was like, 'This was a waste if I don't use it at this point,'" he said in 2020.

After two seasons at Butler, Press played at Marshall University before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Tulsa in 2011. There, he and three others lived in a three-bedroom house. Three of them paid $400 in rent, but the odd man out who slept on the couch paid $100.

"We would take the golf cart from work to our house and eat lunch there because nobody had money to eat lunch, so we would just go home to eat there," Press said this week.

Press said the kind way Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship treated his staff confirmed that he wanted to coach. Taylor also worked closely with quarterback G.J. Kinne, the son of a longtime Texas high school football coach. Kinne had played for a slew of different coaches during his time at Tulsa. In Taylor, among all that instability, he had someone he trusted.

That feeling was proved to be mutual in later years. During Press' time as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2013 to 2020, Kinne had two stints with the team -- as a player from 2013 to 2015 and as a staffer in 2019.

During all their time together, he understood Press and Zac carried a unique outlook on coaching that was forged by a shared background.

"They're former quarterbacks," said Kinne, who's now the head coach at Texas State. "They're coaches' kids. They've seen it a long time. It's such a mental game and [quarterback] is such a mental position. They just get it. There's only certain people out there that get it."

MONDAY'S GAME WILL be Zac and Press' fifth meeting in the NFL. The most recent was in 2020, when Press was the quarterbacks coach with the Eagles. The game ended in a 23-23 tie.

There is a Taylor Bowl trophy that is maintained by Sherwood. But the lack of awareness among the brothers of who leads the head-to-head battle (Press leads 2-1-1) or which family members are coming to the game shows the two don't think much about facing each other.

"A lot is made of it," Zac said Thursday. "Probably the least is made of it by me and Press, but he's somebody I'm very proud of."

The two share many of the same traits when it comes to preparation. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who also worked with Zac when they were assistants with the Miami Dolphins from 2012 to 2015, said Zac has a wide array of game tape to study. Kinne said Press has a database of plays for nearly every imaginable situation.

And those who know them laud how each balances their work-life schedule. In Cincinnati, each Monday night is "Family Night" for the coaches, who bring their partners and children to the coaches' floor of Paycor Stadium. Kinne saw that first-hand with Press when they were in Philadelphia.

"His family [was] always coming up there," Kinne said. "Being around him, seeing him interact with his kids, I was like, 'That's OK to do that.' You can still be a great coach and do that."

Kinne believes Press will join his brother as an NFL head coach soon enough. Should the Jaguars have a big year, he could generate the same buzz Zac received as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams during their run to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2018 season.

Monday will mark the first time that both Taylor brothers have faced each other since their newfound professional successes -- Zac's Super Bowl run and Press' new role in Jacksonville. While they continue to chart the paths in their respective careers, they're also busy preparing the next generation of Taylor kin for their coaching future.

Zac's sons, Brooks, 13, and Luke, 11, are already well on their way to following in the footsteps of their dad and uncle.

"They sit in my basement and watch tape with me," Zac Taylor said. "They know all the personnel. I just ask them, what are the keys to beating Jacksonville? They rip off the players you need to stop. I could see them doing that."

ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco contributed to this story.