This issue: Summer 2017

Craig Taylor

Director of athletics calls it a career after more than four decades

By Sean Patterson

To this day, Craig Taylor can’t remember a word that was said. He just recalls sitting in the back of Wood-Mar Auditorium – where chapel services were held in those days – and sensing a need to respond to the altar call.

“There I was, in the very back reading The Oregonian sports section, as usual, when I heard the speaker say something like, ‘Some of you need to come down here right now and give your life to Christ,’” says Taylor of that spring day in 1972. “People around me were thinking, ‘Him? Is that really Craig going forward?’ And I can’t blame them. I was probably considered ‘unreachable’ to many. But there I was, walking to the front.”

He didn’t know it then, but those steps of faith proved pivotal not only for Taylor, but for the hundreds of athletes who would ultimately be impacted by his influence as a coach, professor and administrator at George Fox in the more than four decades that followed.

Craig Taylor

Taylor, who served at the helm of the university’s baseball, softball and women’s basketball teams during his tenure, looks on during his final home game as head coach of the women’s basketball team in 1993.

Taylor, 65, is retiring from the university this summer after serving in multiple capacities at the school for 43 years. He’s worked as director of athletics since 1988 and, before that, coached in the school’s baseball (1974-79), women’s basketball (1981-93) and softball (1981-88, 1990) programs. He’s also taught health and human performance courses since 1978, and for one year (1999) served as vice president for student life.

As athletic director, he oversaw the school’s transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division III in 1995, and he developed and implemented plans to add seven intercollegiate sports – including the relaunch of football in 2014. Taylor was also instrumental in the planning and building of $11.2 million in facility expansions, including the Austin Sports Complex in 2010, and Stoffer Family Stadium and Duke Athletic Center in 2014.

He was at the helm of the athletics department for 38 Northwest Conference titles and two NCAA national team championships, in baseball in 2004 and women’s basketball in 2009. And three of his coaching hires – Pat Casey, Pat Bailey and Scott Rueck – have gone on to successful Division I careers at Oregon State University. Along the way, Taylor was named NAIA District 2 Administrator of the Year in 1992 and the district’s Softball Coach of the Year in 1985.

And to think Taylor originally came to George Fox, as he puts it, “for the money.”

“We were NAIA back then, so there were athletic scholarships,” he says of his junior-year transfer from Big Bend Community College in 1971. “I came here to play ball. That was it. I had no interest in the spiritual aspect of the school, and getting a college degree was just a side benefit. I just wanted a place to play.”

Taylor pitched on the baseball team and starred as a forward in basketball, helping George Fox claim its first NAIA District 2 basketball championship and qualify for its first national tournament berth – in any sport – in the 1972-73 season. But it was what was happening in his life off the court that proved more significant.

“Let’s just say, I was a pretty risky recruit for this school,” he laughs. “I was on a pretty dark, destructive path. Sports were my god. They were my identity, my everything. As sports went, so my life went.”

Craig Taylor

Taylor throws out the first pitch at the final home baseball game he oversaw as athletic director.

Until that fateful day in chapel, when he inexplicably responded to speaker Paul Reese’s altar call and accepted Christ. Suddenly, Taylor’s perception of athletics changed from being all about him to being a conduit through which other lives could be enriched, educated and shaped. Upon graduating in 1974, he applied the philosophy to a coaching career that continued into the early 1990s. It’s a mindset that continues to advise his role as athletic director.

Taylor credits then-chair of the physical education department, Marge Weesner, for pushing him to pursue a career as a coach and educator. And a mentor, Sam Willard – the man who recruited him to play for Big Bend and who later coached men’s basketball at George Fox – proved instrumental in the young Taylor’s spiritual development.

“We didn’t advertise the Be Known promise then, but they were two examples of Be Known to me during my student days,” he says. “Marge is one of my all-time heroes – she believed in me and encouraged me – and Sam modeled what it meant to be a stand-up coach and a man living for Christ.”

Taylor describes his retirement as “bittersweet,” and admits he’s having a hard time imagining life after George Fox. “I absolutely love this university. It’s been my home for 43 years. I hear of people who say they can’t wait to retire. That’s sad to me. I can’t relate to that statement. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to work at a place I was passionate about and with people who will be friends for life.”

And while he plans to continue supporting George Fox, dropping in on games now and then from his home in McMinnville, Oregon, Taylor says he has no concrete retirement plans outside of spending more time on his motorcycle – “Harley time,” as he calls it.

“It’s been a phenomenal ride,” says the Harley-Davidson enthusiast of his career. “My life was transformed here. Honestly, no words can express how special George Fox University is to me. This will always be my place.”

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