Nathaniel C. `Birdman' Taylor, 78, Morgan teacher and coach

September 16, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Nathaniel Carrington "Birdman" Taylor, a Morgan State coach and educator, died of cancer Tuesday at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 78.

Mr. Taylor was born and raised in Oklahoma City, the son of a hospital maintenance worker. A gifted athlete in his youth, he earned his bachelor's degree in education in 1949 from Tennessee State University, where he played basketball and was the football team's quarterback. In 1956, he earned a master's degree in health and physical education from Columbia University.

While at Tennessee State, Mr. Taylor was nicknamed "The Terrific, Tantalizing Technician" by a sports reporter for his athletic prowess.

"He played in a home game, and the team was wearing white uniforms. It was raining, and the field was muddy," said his son, Julian Ford Taylor of Reisterstown. "He played so well, and they won the game, but the amazing thing was when they walked off the field, his uniform was still white and clean. They were still telling this story years later when I attended Tennessee State."

Mr. Taylor earned All-American honors in football and basketball while at Tennessee.

In 1949, he began his career teaching health and physical education at what is now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and began coaching under Vernon "Skip" McCain. He left the college from 1950 to 1952 to serve with an Army combat construction unit, then returned.

One year while coaching the basketball team at the college, Mr. Taylor's team compiled a 25-0 record.

One of Mr. Taylor's undergraduates there was Earl S. Richardson, now president of Morgan State University.

"I was the world's worst athlete, and he was trying to get me to tumble. I couldn't do it, and Bird kept saying, `Tuck in your head. Tuck in your head.' Eventually he got me to tuck in my head," Dr. Richardson said, laughing.

"He called everyone `son' or `bird,' and they in turn called him `Birdman,'" Dr. Richardson said. "He was a very fine fellow, and he was the same now as he was when I was in college. He was both a father and friend to his students."

He added: "He was always most respectful and supportive of me.

"When I came to Morgan in 1984," Dr. Richardson said, "he was one of the first to congratulate me. He said, `I never thought you would end up in such a position,' and I said, `You better be careful how you treat your students because you never know when they could become your boss.'"

It was fellow faculty member and football coach Earl C. Banks who brought Mr. Taylor to Morgan in 1965 as an assistant football coach overseeing the offensive line. He took over as head football coach for two years after Mr. Banks retired in 1973.

"He was a no-nonsense coach. If you could play, he'd tell you that, and if you couldn't, he'd tell you that, too," said Arno A. Adams, athletic equipment manager at Morgan and a longtime friend. "He was a fair guy and never had any problems with his players because they respected him. He was also a good guy to work for, and I learned a lot."

Dr. Jo-Ann Rodenhauser, chairwoman of the health, physical education, recreation and dance department at Morgan, recalled: "What I remember most was his sense of humor, and that became his personality. He always pretended to be a little grumpy, but he really wasn't. He was very popular with students and the men he coached. We had to pull him out of retirement to coach the women's basketball team for a few years."

"He was a meticulous teacher who instilled in his athletes and students the essentials of the sport or subject coupled with the principles of life -- integrity, perseverance and compassion," said his wife of 49 years, the former Rosa "Rasza" Ford, who is retired from Morgan, where she was an assistant professor of English and humanities.

"He was a modest man who had a light spirit," she said.

Mr. Taylor retired in 1986. He enjoyed puttering around his Bowers Avenue home and raising flowers and vegetables.

Deeply religious, Mr. Taylor was an active member of Fountain Baptist Church, where he served on the board of trustees. He liked reading the Bible and was a member of a Bible study class at his church.

He was a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and for more than 50 years of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at his church, 1215 Rev. Herman A. Ford Way, Baltimore.

Also surviving are a brother, James R. Taylor of Huntsville, Ala.; and a grandson. Another son, Nathaniel C. Taylor Jr., died in 1961.

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