Football’s been good to long-time White Hall High School assistant football coach Porter Taylor.
The popular Taylor enjoyed being a personal friend of the late Walter Payton, arguably the best running back in National Football League history. Taylor was a teammate and quarterback when Payton was first making a name for himself at Jackson, Miss., State University of the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference).
Fast forward roughly 40 years, and Taylor is still near college football’s elite.
Real close, in fact. Like family.
Taylor’s son-in-law — former NFL’er Kerry Cooks — is a co-defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, which will meet Alabama in the national championship game Monday night.
Taylor, a Pine Bluff resident, is nearly as proud as when his daughter, Elvern, gave birth to his granddaughters, Kenadee and Kerrington. He’s also pleased that Elvern apparently idolized him enough to want to be the wife of a man in the same profession.
“My son-in-law and I have a unique relationship in that we both played and are both coaching football, even though it’s at different levels,” said Taylor. “We share a love for the game and the great rewards of working with young men in a sport that at times, like the bowl season, consumes the television spotlight of most of the nation.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Taylor, a Merrill High School product, boasted. “He’s a fantastic young man with a very bright future ahead of him. I see him as a head college coach someday or maybe coaching in the National Football League. My wife, Jerri, and I are very proud of him.”
Cooks, a former football captain for the Iowa Hawkeyes, describes himself as “blessed,” especially by his family, including the Taylors.
“They’re awesome,” Cooks, a 38-year-old Texas native, said of the Taylors. “It’s just like they’re my mom and dad, too. Porter’s always texting me. They are so supportive.
“I love talking football with Porter,” continued Cooks. “He sees the game from a different perspective because of his experiences. He’s a great football coach, and it doesn’t matter what levels we’re at. He’s smart, and I learn from him.”
The life of a college football coach is hectic, but Elvern Shelton-Cooks, a 1995 graduate of Dollaway High School, figures being the daughter of a coach helped in preparing her to be a coach’s wife.
“I sorta knew what I was getting into,” she laughed. “There are a lot of things that make life different when you’re married to a coach, but it can be a great life. I wasn’t purposely hunting for a man like my dad, but they’re close.
“We don’t make it home to Pine Bluff from South Bend (Ind.) as much as we would like, but whenever we do get together, Kerry and my dad are together. They talk and continue to talk to one another.”
Porter Taylor, who has also coached at the collegiate level, doesn’t conceal his excitement over his son-in-law’s achievements as a Notre Dame coach and the Fighting Irish’s national title game berth.
“Kerry and the rest of the Irish coaching staff have done a great job in getting their team to the place where every team in America aspired to be, after fighting their way to the top,” said Taylor, an Arkansas Razorback and Southeast Conference fan who admits he would rather the Hogs and Notre Dame be playing in the championship battle. “Alabama and Notre Dame have two of the best football programs ever, though. What a game it’ll be.”
Who will win?
“Notre Dame seems to be the underdog in this one, but as those of us who have been around this game know, you can never count an underdog out,” said Taylor, who will watch the game by television at his home. “All the Irish have to do is meet the challenge and finish strong. I have to root for my son-in-law and the Fighting Irish. I think Notre Dame will beat Alabama.”
Like father, like daughter, Elvern tossed her prediction into the conversation.
“Notre Dame, 17-10,” she said. “And my husband and my dad will talk about it forever.”