For the coaches at Davis High School who were fortunate enough to work with him, Taylor Stubblefield elicited the same thought from all of them.
Is there anything this young man can’t do?
Twenty years later, not much has changed as he ascends to the highest levels as a college football coach. Except for this one nagging thing — he’s having difficulty settling down.
But he’s eager to remedy that as soon as possible, if not already having done so.
After a season at the University of Miami, Stubblefield was hired in January as the new wide receivers coach at Penn State, where he believes an impressive but highly transitional career arc will find a lasting home. The Nittany Lions represent his 11th coaching job in 14 years, a nomadic coast-to-coast journey that includes seven stops for just one season.
Every decision was painstaking, he says, and it’s the nature of the business that ties all assistant coaches to factors out of their control. Sometimes you move on because you want to, sometimes because you have to. And sometimes an entire staff gets turned over.
“Every opportunity I’ve had involved a lot of deep thought as to whether or not I would take it,” Stubblefield explained during a recent break in his busy schedule. “There are always many things to examine and balance and, ultimately, the question of what’s best for me and my family? But I’ll say this: I don’t want to move anymore.”
The 2000 Davis graduate said he’s found his program, his culture and his head coach. James Franklin is entering his seventh season in Happy Valley and has taken his teams to New Year’s Day bowl games in three of the last four years. Everything Stubblefield has seen and done so far confirms his hope and expectation — this is the place for his wife, Georgia, and young son, Jagger.
And especially his career.
“I want to be at a place long enough so I can develop professionally in one system,” he said. “I’ve been involved in just about every offense you can imagine but never long enough to hone in on one. I see an unbelievable opportunity here with a program so rich in history, an incredible head coach and staff and amazing athletes. I couldn’t be happier being here.”
Straight out of Yakima
Stubblefield has a lot to offer as a coach not just because he’s smart and highly motivational, but because he’s walked the walk. He has held the NCAA’s all-time record for career receptions, starred in four bowl games, and this year was nominated for collegiate Hall of Fame consideration.
And it all started at Davis.
A strong case can be made for Stubblefield being not only the best three-sport athlete the Pirates have produced, but anywhere in the Valley. He scored nearly 2,000 points in basketball at the same time as teammate, Josh Williams, he was a seven-time state medalist in track and field and, oh yeah, he was pretty good in football. If there was any room or time in all that, soccer would certainly have made him a four-sport star.
He was compact at 6 feet, 175 pounds, and could do more with that than anyone in the Big Nine Conference — a 200-yard receiving night in the fall, a league MVP season on the hardcourt in the winter and you name it in the spring. Helping the Pirates bring home multiple state trophies in track, Stubblefield soared over 23 feet in the long jump, reached 47 feet in the triple jump and broke 50 seconds on his leg of the 4x400 relay.
But for the next level, football was it. And at first the Yakima native decided to stay close to home, verbally committing to Washington State a few weeks before national signing day. A few days later he switched to Purdue.
“It was mostly just because at that particular time Washington State was going through one of their slumps,” he said years later. “At the same time you had Purdue, which was in the national spotlight with Drew (Brees) playing so well.”
It wasn’t an instant fit, though. Indiana was a long way from Washington, and specifically Pullman.
“I’m redshirting here and it’s far away from home,” he reflected. “I wasn’t having that much fun when I first got here. I was homesick and stuff like that. So, of course, I played back in my mind what if I would’ve gone to Washington State.”
But once he got on the field everything changed.
Run for the record
All Stubblefield did for the Boilermakers was roll up the four most consistent seasons a wide receiver ever recorded, rising each year from 2001 to 2004 with 73, 77, 86 and 89 catches.
He ran clean, sharp routes, thoroughly understood defenses, and basically caught everything.
“My whole philosophy since I’ve been here is if you run great routes, you get wide open, you make easy catches,” Stubblefield said during his senior year. “Instead of running so-so routes and then you’re dealing with a contested ball, which is a lot harder.”
While he was a redshirt during Brees’ senior year, the Davis grad still shared his college career with another future NFL quarterback, Kyle Orton, who spent most of his 10 pro seasons with Chicago and Denver. Orton had an extremely close bond with his favorite pass-catcher and together they made the fall of 2004 a special one.
Despite being denied the nine catches he had as a freshman in the Sun Bowl because the NCAA didn’t include bowl games in its statistics until 2002, Stubblefield made his rush for the career record during a season when Purdue reached as high as No. 5 in the national polls.
After torching Big Ten champion Iowa for 15 receptions on Nov. 4, Stubblefield closed in fast and became college’s all-time receiving leader on his home field in Purdue’s conference finale against in-state rival Indiana. It was an emphatic day as he hauled in 14 passes and scored three touchdowns.
“I’m amazed a little skinny kid from Yakima can come in here and catch that many balls,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said after the game. “That’s what hard work and dedication can do.”
Stubblefield’s college career came to a close with a third appearance in the Sun Bowl, where he left the record at 316 — as per the NCAA but actually 325 overall. With his 196-yard tally against Washington State in 2001 still standing as a record, the Sun Bowl named him to its 75th anniversary team in 2008.
Stubblefield’s record lasted seven years before Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles caught him in 2011. The week before Broyles broke the mark, the former Purdue great was asked about its longevity. Naturally, he knew the simple essence of it.
“What goes into it, first and foremost, is being healthy,” he said after finishing with 3,629 yards in four years as a starter. “That gives you an opportunity to catch the balls. Next, you have to have a great quarterback. I was fortunate enough to have a great quarterback in Kyle Orton. He trusted me, I trusted him and we built a great relationship together. And then third, you have to be able to catch the ball.”
Player to teacherAfter two years trying to find a niche in the pros, where he spent time with Carolina and St. Louis in the NFL and Hamilton in the CFL, Stubblefield knew exactly what his next move would be. “I love to teach,” he says, “and I love the game of football.”
Needing little time to find work, his first gig was right here at Central Washington in 2007.
It lasted one season.
And so, right out of the gate, the precarious insecurity of the business set Stubblefield’s life in motion and has, to this day, kept him from completely unpacking — even with stellar results as a receivers coach along the way.
After Stubblefield’s first season in Ellensburg, head coach Beau Baldwin moved on to Eastern Washington. In seven of his previous 10 coaching jobs, he has either been in the final year or the first year for the head coach. In each case — CWU, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, New Mexico, Wake Forest, Toronto (CFL), and Miami — he had that job for one season.
In his most transient flurry in 2014, Stubblefield exited Wake Forest, where he coached Baltimore Ravens draftee Michael Campanaro, for a return to the MAC at Eastern Michigan. But less than a week later the Pac-12 came calling when a sudden opening came up at Utah and it was an opportunity he had to take.
“Every place I’ve been I’ve always tried to focus only on the guys in my room and what we need to do to get better,” he said. “But it’s definitely a business and there’s an extreme amount of pressure that goes with it. There are so many factors that play into it — a philosophy change, a bad year or even a good year, a head coach change or a coordinator change. You have to handle all those things but not be distracted by them.”
Stubblefield coached Utah’s receivers in 2014 and 2015, with each season concluding in the Las Vegas Bowl, departed for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts in 2016 and then spent two years at Air Force.
Known as an excellent technician, a label he’s very proud of, Stubblefield is always on somebody’s wish list. In 2019, that turned out to be Miami.
Another call to the moving company.
From ‘Canes to Lions
That Miami turned out to be Stubblefield’s seventh one-and-done was a classic case of cascading events in a constantly changing and shifting job landscape.
When he was elevated to head coach at Miami in 2019, Manny Diaz hired three coaches from Central Michigan’s vaunted 2011 team to direct his offense — Dan Enos (offensive coordinator), Butch Barry (linemen) and Stubblefield. This reunion and the mystique of the Hurricanes program is what lured Stubblefield away from a place he loved in Colorado Springs with the Air Force Academy.
But it did not go well.
Miami went 6-7 last season and was blanked 14-0 by Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. For a program of this stature, that was unacceptable. Enos and Barry were both fired and Stubblefield was nervous.
At the same time Franklin was forced to do some retooling of his offensive staff for the opposite reason — his guys drew interest for their success. His offensive coordinator became the new head coach at Old Dominion, and his receivers coach became West Virginia’s offensive coordinator.
Suddenly, an opportunity arose and the pairing of Penn State and Stubblefield seemed perfect for both. Franklin was looking for stability, having to fill the receivers position for the fourth straight year, and Stubblefield was more than eager to settle into a program where he could stay and develop. Moreover, he has roots in the conference.
“Taylor really separated himself during the interview process,” Franklin said while announcing the hire in January. “He has a wide range of experiences as a coach and a strong familiarity with the Big Ten as an All-American at Purdue. He will bring his passion and knowledge to our young receiver room.”
Now 38 years old, Stubblefield is beyond ready for this to be a place to stay. He has aspirations to one day become an offensive coordinator and then, possibly, a head coach. But that won’t happen, he believes, until he’s created an identity for himself.
“I’m aware of what I need to do to grow,” he said. “I need to stay at one place and really learn and be a part of a program. I love what’s going on here, but I’ll admit it’s an environment that’s a little different for me. Penn State is such a huge brand in the Northeast and the stadium is unbelievable (with a seating capacity of 106,572 it’s the fourth largest in the world). I’m excited to prove myself here and be a part of this for a long time.”
Roots reach deepAlong with his technical prowess, Stubblefield is also praised for his ability to not only teach but truly connect with young players, who represent all types of backgrounds and ethnicities.
For this, he credits his upbringing here.
“Appreciating diversity is something I’ve always had with me since growing up in Yakima,” he said. “In high school my friends were not from one specific race or economic background. That’s been good for me, especially now with the current climate in our country.”
Stubblefield and his wife are both from the Valley and they try to get back here at least once a year. Taylor’s older brother, Mel, is in his seventh year as the women’s basketball coach at Bellevue Community College.
His athletic and coaching journey has been an extraordinary one for its scope and variety, and, although some of the mileage has weighed heavily on him, Stubblefield doesn’t regret any of it.
“It’s been fun, it really has,” he said. “I’ve literally been all over this country, meeting amazing people and interacting with different cultures. It’s been a learning process. Through all the places I’ve been, my coaching philosophy has been changing and evolving and that’s always a good thing.”
• Scott Spruill can be reached at email@example.com Follow him on Twitter at @ScottSpruill