LaDon Taylor never envisioned himself becoming a head football coach.
Yet, here he is, holding the reins of the Charleston High School Tigers — one of the winningest varsity football programs in Mississippi over the past two decades.
“To actually have a chance to be the head coach is overwhelming,” said Taylor. “I appreciate it. I don’t take it for granted. It’s hard to believe.”
Promoted to the position Aug. 13 by the East Tallahatchie School District Board of Trustees, the 44-year-old Taylor succeeds longtime CHS head football coach Scott Martin, who did not return to the district this fall.
Taylor also was named district athletic director — a position formerly held by Michael “Slick” Hargett, who likewise moved on from CHS at the close of the 2019-20 school year.
A Charleston native and 1994 graduate of CHS, Taylor said his coaching journey in football has seemed an unlikely one.
Since the time he became employed in the district in 1998, he has been involved in helping to coach sports.
His father, Roosevelt, had been a successful head coach of junior high boys basketball at Charleston Middle School for many years. Following in his dad’s footsteps, Taylor started at CMS, where he was named the head coach of junior high boys basketball — a position he held for about a decade — and assistant coach of junior high football. He also taught seventh-grade science and special education inclusion.
In those early years, Taylor found himself gradually gravitating more and more toward the high school football program.
“I went to the high school every evening during football. I wasn’t getting paid to do it, but I was trying to learn because I understood where I was and that football is the sport here,” he explained. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Taylor hung out around the varsity field house, weight room, practice field and Tiger Stadium, picking up kernels of knowledge first from head coach Jamie Mitchell in the early 2000s, then from head coach Perry Liles.
In 2008, new CHS head coach Tony Vance gave Taylor his first official job on a high school football staff — coaching defensive ends.
For the next five years, Taylor, aka Coach T, served as an assistant under Vance, helping clinch the program’s first state championship title in 2011.
Martin also was an assistant on Vance’s staff, serving as offensive coordinator.
Vance accepted the head coaching job at Class 6A Hattiesburg after the 2012 season and Martin, who had previously enjoyed success as a head coach at the varsity level, was named successor.
The team’s defensive coordinator, Michael Dogan, whom Taylor described as a mentor, also moved on. Martin approached Taylor about that vacant position.
Taylor was appreciative for the confidence but hesitant.
“I actually begged Coach Martin to go find a defensive coordinator,” he recalled. “He said, ‘This is what I’m going to do. I’ll look, but if I can’t find one, will you do it?’ I said, ‘Man, if you’re in a bind and you can’t, then I guess I’ll have to do it.’”
As preparations for the season neared, Martin doubled back to Taylor about the defensive coordinator slot.
“When it came time, he said, ‘I couldn’t find anybody,’ but then he also added, ‘I didn’t look,’ That was big, and I appreciate him for that,” Taylor noted.
The Charleston defense, long a stellar unit with a solid reputation for aggressiveness, speed and athleticism, continued its dominance under Taylor’s leadership. Year after year, it has ranked among the state’s top defenses in a number of statistical categories.
“We have had some really, really great kids that bought in to what we were trying to do,” said Taylor.
Taylor served as defensive coordinator for the Tigers throughout Martin’s seven-year tenure as head coach — a stretch that saw the team average 11-plus wins per season, capture five regional championships and three North Mississippi titles, and appear in three consecutive state championship games from 2014-2016.
One way Taylor has sought to improve his abilities over the years is by attending football coaching clinics.
He said he has attended the University of Alabama summer coaching clinic for the past 10 years and has also attended clinics at Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
Despite all that he has learned and applied to honing his trade, Taylor said he never dreamed of being considered for a head football coaching job.
“I appreciate the superintendent and the school board for the opportunity,” he noted.
“I love kids; that’s why I’m in this business. At the end of the day, no matter what happens on that field, when kids call you back and say ‘I appreciate how you treated me, what you did for me,’ that right there is the best feeling in the world,” Taylor added.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are always making these kids be the best men and women that they can possibly be. Sports plays a big role in that. I’m glad to be in this role, and I hope I can continue to do and say the right things that motivate the kids.”
Taylor had on his head football coach hat recently when he had to break the news to team players that there would be no 2020 season. During the same meeting that Taylor was hired, the school board voted to cancel all fall sports due to COVID-19.
“It’s bittersweet having to tell those seniors that we can’t play this year — the ones who spent hours this summer working to get to this point,” said Taylor. “I do understand the ramifications of the virus ... but it’s still hard to deal with.”
In addition to football, at CHS Taylor has also been head coach of the boys track team and assistant coach of boys basketball. He also has continued to teach special education inclusion and, during the 2019-20 school year, he oversaw online credit recovery and Spanish classes. On top of that, he has driven a school bus in the district for 21 years.
Taylor is married to the former Kimberly Bradford and they have two children, Jamar, 18, and Janiya, 14.
Taylor said one of the highlights of his coaching career has been having the opportunity to coach his son in football. Jamar played both tight end and linebacker at CHS, but he excelled on the defensive side of the ball and has been offered the chance to play linebacker in college.
In 1996, Taylor received an associate's degree from Coahoma Community College. In 1998, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi Valley State University and in 2016 he received the Master of Education in Education Leadership and Administration from Jones International University.
Having parents who were career educators — his mother, Janice, also taught at CMS — motivated Taylor to take the same path, he said.
“Coming up, to me, it was like [teaching] was the only job,” he noted. “I didn't even know there were other jobs. All I saw was teachers; my entire family, really. On my dad’s side, especially, all of them were teachers. That’s all I knew: teach, coach, drive a bus, farm. The farming is the only thing I didn’t take from my dad.”
As active as he has been in coaching and promoting athletics, Taylor never lets himself forget that the most lasting aspect of schooling is, well, the education — not the extracurricular activities.
For some students, participation in football, basketball, track, baseball, powerlifting or band may be their ticket to the next level. But that’s not true for the majority.
“At the end of the day, sports is not going to last for everybody ... playing sports in high school. That’s the brutal truth," Taylor noted. "And if they’re not prepared to be able to do something else, then where will they be?”
IN THE PHOTO: Charleston High School Defensive Coordinator LaDon Taylor watches the action on the football field during a 2019 varsity game at Tiger Stadium. Taylor is now the head coach. (Photo by Kelly Paris)
Editor's note: This story has been expanded from its original print version.