FAMILY AFFAIR: Taylor Nill left oil and gas job to join Thunderbirds staff where father Blake is head coach
Blake Nill remembers trying to get away from the office during the hectic university football season to see his young children before they went to bed.
Unfortunately it didn’t happen all that often for Nill, who was then the head coach of the powerhouse Saint Mary’s Huskies. But when it did, he sometimes got some help from his oldest son, Taylor, as work continued into the night.
“I’d bring practice film home,” Nill recalled. “He’d watch with me and would ask questions even back then as a little guy.
“As a family we’re very consumed with football.”
That football family will be reunited this season after Blake Nill, now the head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds, hired Taylor to tutor the team’s running backs.
“I’ve been around such a high level of football for so long,” said the younger Nill. “I’ve always known I wanted to coach.”
Football is in Taylor Nill’s blood. He filled water bottles as a kid on the sidelines at Saint Mary’s in Halifax before eventually going on to play for his father at the University of Calgary.
With a business degree in hand after graduating in 2013, he traded oil and gas in Alberta, but kept in touch with the sport by coaching high school teams.
It turned out he had an itch that couldn’t be ignored.
“I sat in front of four computer screens for 10 hours a day,” Taylor said during at interview this week in the stands at Thunderbird Stadium. “It just wasn’t for me anymore. This is so much more up my alley.
“I love the game, I love being around the guys. You lose that feeling when you’re done playing. As competitive as natural gas trading is, it’s not quite the same.”
A receiver during his playing days, Taylor admitted being the coach’s son was never easy. And the 27-yearold knows there will be plenty of doubters suggesting an element of nepotism with his hire — so much so that he makes a point of referring to his dad as “coach,” even though he sometimes has to catch himself.
“(I heard it) my whole career,” said Taylor, who has also applied to the masters of business administration program at UBC. “Anyone that truly knows coach Nill, knows he wouldn’t give anyone any handouts.
“I can’t wait to prove I deserve to be here.”
Blake Nill agreed any favouritism talk comes from people who don’t understand his operation.
“I would say, ‘You should see how difficult being the coach’s son really is,’ ” he said. “There is no question we are tougher on our kids.”
That was evident during the 2009 national semifinal when Taylor taunted some Saint Mary’s players after a Calgary touchdown in the Nills’ emotional return to Halifax.
Blake was caught by television cameras chewing his son out on the sidelines, a heated exchange that saw the coach heavily criticized instead of congratulated for a dominant victory.
“I definitely deserved it a little bit,” said Taylor.
“I’ve had that kind of moment with several players,” added Blake, who later apologized. “Taylor sat out one play, I gave him a pat and sent him back out.”
Taylor had been asking his dad since he was hired by the University of British Columbia after the 2014 season if there was any room for him on the coaching staff.
Doing well on his MBA entrance exam — Taylor is in the interview stage at UBC — was the first step. Then there was an opening when associate head coach and offensive coordinator Steve Buratto underwent neck surgery and was advised to stay away from football for the year.
But Blake still needed some convincing. Taylor had a good thing going in Calgary. Why would his son want to be part of this life?
“My concern wasn’t about his ability,” said the older Nill. “My concern was whether as a father you can advocate going into coaching as a good career path.
“I’m eternally grateful for my experience, but I’m far from the norm.”
About to begin his 26th season as a coach in Canadian university football when No. 7 UBC visits No. 5 Regina on Friday, Blake Nill won the Vanier Cup with Saint Mary’s in 2001 and 2002, while also making the title game in 1999 and 2003.
He then got Calgary to the final three times in five years, and grabbed his third national championship in 2015 with UBC — a program that had fallen on hard times until his arrival.
After the Thunderbirds experienced a bit of a down season in 2016, both Nills are hungry to get back on top.
“I think we’re a better coaching staff because of Taylor,” said Blake. “He brings an incredible non-traditional look into the offence.”
While sharing the same workspace, Taylor is intent on forging his own path in the coaching world — something he knows won’t he easy with his father’s long shadow.
“We’re very different,” said Taylor. “But the thing I’ve learned from him is accountability. You need respect from your players in order to get the most from them.”