EL PASO – The UTSA football team is eating breakfast and head coach Jeff Traylor is holding court. He stops by most of the breakfast tables at the Radisson Hotel a mile from the El Paso airport to say good morning and exchange the occasional joke or jab. The Roadrunners, undefeated and ranked for the first time in program history, are in town to take on a surging UTEP program.
The moment lacks any stress. Traylor is relaxed, as most of us would be days after receiving a contract extension through 2031 worth $28 million. The players joke and smile at their tables organized by position. The university president walks by without much fanfare. This is a team locked and loaded on winning the day. One of the three pillars in Traylor’s 2-1-0 Triangle of Toughness.
“We’re going to try and stay very microscopic in our focus and be okay with being right where we are,” Traylor tells me after a walkthrough later in the morning. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, and that’s why they call it the present. We’re going to try to be right where are feet are. If we don’t, we’re going to get beat.”
Pardon Traylor if he comes across as the East Texas version of Ted Lasso. The two men, even if one is fictional, aren’t too dissimilar. Both value family and support systems. Traylor himself will tell you that one of the reasons he signed the extension is because of the support he’s received from the university and the board of regents. He compares it to the support he received while putting Gilmer High School on the map.
Another similarity is the ability to turn a phrase. Traylor is tremendous at stating the profound in a unique, nearly hysterical way. There is the “Don’t major in the minors’ he throws at me when asked about his pre-game preparation. Traylor is relatively loose on gameday. He knows not to sweat the small stuff.
“I believe that there are certain things that matter and other things that don’t,” Traylor explained. “I’ve never confused those two things. I’ve always had a clarity in my life between what I think is important and what I don’t think is important.”
The next turn of phrase Traylor uttered was “My yes is my yes, and my no is my no” regarding building a culture. Traylor might not major in the minors, but he sure cares a lot about what he chooses as his major. The second-year head coach of UTSA believes in clear expectations. He and his coaching staff tell their players the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. Traylor wants a player-led team that allows him to be a football coach, not a babysitter. He felt that dynamic shift in November of 2020, his first year in charge.
“You can ask every one of my players right now and say, ‘Who is the most important coach in your life?’ And they’re going to say themselves,” Traylor said. “They are the most important coach in their life. I’m not with them 24/7. My responsibility is to educate, teach, and empower young men to lead their rooms. If the players lead the team, it’ll be good for us.”
UTSA Director of Player Personnel Joe Price III also has a favorite Traylor saying. His pick is “Your goals need to be so big that your prayer life needs to match it." Traylor wants his team to aim high and not set limitations. No one believed UTSA would be 9-0 following the win over UTEP less than two years into Traylor’s arrival. Not even Traylor.
“I would’ve been delusional to expect a team picked last in the conference with nobody on the preseason all-conference team would end up with 19 on the all-conference team and went to a bowl game in Year 1,” Traylor admitted. “And then to be where we are the next year? No, there is no way I could have believed any of that. I hoped for it, but I’m not sure I’d believe it.”
Price never doubted the vision. The former assistant at Galena Park North Shore High School won a state title before joining Traylor for the mission of bringing more talent to UTSA. Price spent his entire life around coaches. His dad, Joe, was also a life-long football coach. Price saw something familiar in Traylor. Something that binds great coaches together.
“Most of the guys I’ve been around don’t make it complicated,” he said. "Football is a simple game: coaches put players in the right place and then the players go be who they. We don’t have to overcomplicate things to have success.”
Family. Loyalty. Clear vision of the task at hand. Not majoring in the minors. Setting goals so big that prayer is required. His word meaning something. All those beliefs and traits possessed by Traylor boil down to clarity. Traylor knows his major. The East Texas kid born to two educators won’t be defined by wins and losses. He’s worried about impact. It’s the mentality that led Gilmer High School to name the football stadium after him. And as usual, Traylor sums those goals up best.
“My mom gave me a poem about a man walking down the beach throwing star fish back into the ocean,” he said. “Somebody says, ‘You’re not going to save all of the starfish,' and the man replies, ‘Yeah, but I saved this one,’ and throws another star fish into the ocean. That’s how I see coaching. That’s what football really is: It is about saving kids. My win-loss record will be what it is one day, but in the end, I’ve been a coach for about 17 years now and that’s about 30 kids a class, so that’s a chance to impact around 500 men.”
That’s a lot of starfish.
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