January 27, 2018 10:45:31 PM
STARKVILLE -- In the final weeks of his 40-year coaching career, Joe Taylor wrote a book titled "The Making of a Champion: Success is an Inconvenience." It details his observations from how he facilitated success to the tune of four black college football national championships and 10 conference championships.
He told The Dispatch it was having players like Charles Huff that allowed him to write that book. Huff has taken the principles that inspired Taylor and translated them to a coaching career that's led him to Mississippi State as the running backs coach and run game coordinator.
It's quite the journey for a former walk-on center at Hampton University, a small historically black college in Hampton, Virginia.
The coaching career that followed started in tumultuous fashion, with seven jobs in eight years and three of those years in roles less than a position coach. Taylor's faith in his pupil never wavered, and now Huff is one of the up-and-coming position coaches in America and property of MSU.
"Some people just got it, and Charles is one of those guys," Taylor told The Dispatch. "Everything that it takes to be successful, he had no problem doing. The early morning get up, the weight room, coming back late and got a test the next day, his parents did an outstanding job raising him because he's a first-class guy. I'm super proud."
Taylor saw it all for the first time when Huff was earning a scholarship.
"He kept working," Taylor said. "He was a guy that made coaching easy because he did everything that the coach asked him to do and more, in every aspect. He keeps a smile on his face, he has the proper attitude, he just loves life and it is contagious with those that are around him."
That's how Huff went from what Taylor labeled as an undersized center to a starter on scholarship for three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championships and two appearances in the FCS playoffs.
In Huff, he described a player who was, "always there," be it before and after practice, at the team's Fellowship of Christian Athletes functions, even at the team's choir sessions.
The choir was one of many functions that brought Taylor closer to Huff -- even if it was through deprecating humor.
"We had 40 players in our football gospel choir; out of 40, I knew five of those guys could sing. The rest of them did a great job of humming," Taylor joked. "(Huff) was probably in between the hummers and the singers."
After his playing days, Huff's coaching career featured similarly humble beginnings. He spent three years at Tennessee State, one as the offensive line coach before two as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, before breaking into the FBS as an assistant offensive line coach at Maryland in 2009. He returned to his alma mater for a year before he was finally spotted by one of the nation's better coaching talent identifiers: Penn State head coach James Franklin.
In 2011, while he was Vanderbilt's coach, Franklin hired Huff as an offensive quality control coach. MSU has reaped the rewards of the Franklin coaching tree with both head coach Joe Moorhead and Huff, who reunited with Franklin at Penn State as his running backs coach and special teams coordinator for the last four seasons.
Starting from the smaller colleges may not be the path most travelled to get to Power 5 conference jobs like the one Huff has, but Taylor believes it's one that makes him successful.
"I've had coaches who played in the NFL and came back and coached, they were so good at what they did that they didn't really know what got them to be that good. They were just talented," Taylor said. "When you start with the grassroots, you're forced to learn the fundamentals, you're forced to pay attention to detail because you probably weren't the most talented guy, but you studied the game, you studied your position and you become a fundamentally sound person.
"To me, that's what makes a great coach: you can teach fundamentals, you can take people to places they haven't been before."
His players over the years have seen that teaching ability.
Tashard Choice, now the running backs coach for North Texas, attested to that from his one year with Huff on the 2012 Buffalo Bills. Huff was the assistant running backs coach for the Bills but working under Curtis Modkins, who was both the running backs coach offensive coordinator. The dual duties gave Huff more of a hands-on role with Choice and his fellow running backs.
"Even-keeled sort of guy that lets running backs be running backs by not overcoaching the game," Choice told The Dispatch. "He understands the game. He's somebody that gets along with everybody, all personalities.
"If somebody makes a mistake, don't beat down on the kid, uplift the kid. Always be able to talk to them in crunch time. That's why everybody respects him: he's not somebody that's going to yell down your throat when you make a mistake, he's going to ask you what you saw and go back to the drawing board and get you better."
As Choice has begun his coaching career, he said Huff has become, "one of my guys I talk to often in this profession." Choice said Huff encouraged him to be himself and be genuine in recruiting, trusting that to relay to prospects what kind of coach he will be for them.
As an on-field coach, Choice described Huff as a master scouter, as someone who is skilled in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of his players and coaching them accordingly.
"Everything you do on the football field, he keeps a storage of what you do in his mind and also looks on film to see what you don't do well to make you do it well," Choice said. "He's able to pinpoint your weakness, and that's what you have to see when you coach in the NFL."
In Huff's growing career, such traits are his process for success, adapted from the same one Taylor witnessed and documented in his book. He saw Huff's rise in the coaching profession coming.
"I'm not surprised at all that's he's succeeded to this level and he's going to continue to succeed because he has all the ingredients that go into being a successful coach," Taylor said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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