He had taken a North East High football program that had gone winless over two years and turned it into a winner.
But last summer, entering his fourth year at the helm, Chris Schleich knew he wanted to watch his children play high school sports, knew 2019 would be his last as head coach, and knew the man he wanted for his successor — Taylor Slaughenhoupt.
“I wanted Taylor to take over the program six thousand percent,” Schleich said. “Not even a question of it. I was just trying to cue him into maybe thinking about it because maybe he wanted to be a college coach. He had been kind of discussing that. He wasn’t sure about whether he wanted to get his master’s degree. I just wanted to put a bug in his ear, let him know this could be an option for him.”
That option to be a head coach proved to be one Slaughenhoupt couldn’t pass on when Schleich decided to step down in January.
“Really I knew then, and I was all for it,” the 25-year-old Slaughenhoupt said of wanting the job after his summer chat with Schleich. “He’s helped me out a lot and I couldn’t be more grateful for him being the head coach my first three years. I’m really grateful and excited for the opportunity.”
A 2012 graduate of Easton High, Slaughenhoupt played football under Mike Butler, then Matt Griffith. He played outside linebacker, was shifted to defensive end his senior season, and also played tight end and some offensive line.
He went on to Shenandoah (Va.) University, where he played tight end as a freshman before being moved to defensive end.
“About halfway through college at Shenandoah, that was really when it starting biting me,” Slaughenhoupt said of the coaching bug. “I knew I wanted to teach, and the main reason I wanted to teach was to coach. I started to look into just trying to be the best coach I could be.”
Schleich went 0-10 his first year as head coach at North East in 2016. The following year he brought on Slaughenhoupt to coach the offensive and defensive lines.
“Taylor brought college football experience to the program,” Schleich said. “And to be honest, finding quality coaches within our area was a difficult task, especially coaches that were interested in coming into a situation of 15 years of losing. It’s difficult to join a program that has very much struggled for a long, long time. And you know when you get into something like that you have to dig your boots in, you’re going to go through bumps in the road. And Taylor, obviously coming out of college, he was looking for a good opportunity at a teaching job. But he didn’t once shy away from the challenge. He was excited to be a part of a challenge like that.
“He knew football at a higher level than a lot of candidates I had worked with,” Schleich continued. “Coaching a football program with 70 kids, you need as much football-experienced guys as you can, but football-experienced guys that are willing to buy into a team approach, which he understood from playing college football.
“And sometimes when you’re a young coach, that’s a great way to prove who you are; what types of tools you have,” Schleich added. “And when he came in, he came in just with a team attitude, a real positive approach, and somebody who could connect with kids and build relationships that were great for a young guy who was about 23 years old at the time.”
The Indians went 6-4 in 2017, earning their first winning season in 15 years, then slipped to 4-6 a year later. Schleich moved Slaughenhoupt to defensive coordinator for the 2019 season, and North East went 5-4 to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.
“He’s one of the big reasons why we had two winning seasons in the four years I was there, which three of them he was a part of,” Schleich said. “He was able to talk about the game at a high level right into his first year. And he was quick to learn the game from some different perspectives than what he was used to from just playing the game. I know through his three years he grew to understand the exterior part of the game; the passing parts, the spread situation versus more the line type of things, which is what he was kind of more used to, being a tight end/defensive end type of kid.
“The other thing Taylor brought was a lot of energy, a lot of fire,” Schleich added. “And he knew how to take the bumps in the road and not give up. He has good stick-to-itiveness. He was a good, positive-minded tough kid who knew the game at a pretty decent level.”
Schleich thinks that combination will continue to serve Slaughenhoupt well, along with the fact the Easton native is taking over a program he’s familiar with.
“It’s huge already,” Slaughenhoupt said of the familiarity with his players. “I know a lot of times that whenever someone takes over they say normally not until year three or four that you really see the results. But the fact is I’ve been part of the program for the last three years and I’ve been able to build the rapport and the relationships with the guys. Our weight room is already averaging 25 to 30 kids every day (before schools were closed this past Monday because of the coronavirus). I’ve loved seeing that. And I just think that’s an example that we have good kids and they’re buying in already. It’s a huge plus.”
Schleich noted while some football programs can stay with the same offensive and defensive schemes and approaches year after year, others have to adjust to their personnel, something Slaughenhoupt plans to do this fall.
“The offensive scheme will be a little different than it has been this past year,” said Slaughenhoupt, who teaches health and physical education at North East. “Last year we were focused more on an option form of attack. And this year it’ll be more of a power-type system.”
Slaughenhoupt doesn’t feel any pressure to keep North East on an upward trend, and is not hung up on a certain number of wins for the 2020 season, which will include hosting Easton in a preseason scrimmage Aug. 28.
“I’ve been part of it and I was able to learn a lot from Sly,” Slaughenhoupt said of Schleich. “My ideas were implemented into the turnaround and now I feel like we’re going to continue to build on what we’ve done the past three years.
“I’m not one to really put a goal on a win-loss number,” Slaughenhoupt said. “But my goal for the program is to create a culture where we expect to win at everything that we do. And I’m trying to implement that now with your grades, with staying out of trouble. With doing your job, whether that’s grades, on the football field, and just enjoying the process of getting better every day.”
That’s one of the reasons why Schleich thinks Slaughenhoupt is going to succeed.
“He’s going to be a phenomenal coach,” Schleich said. “Like any new coach, ‘cause no matter how old you are, or where you’re from, you learn as you go. You’re a constant learner as a coach. And he knows that. And that’s what will make him a good coach.
“And he’s going to care about the kids,” Schleich added. “That’s the most important quality for a high school football coach. It’s not about the game and winning and losing. It’s just about helping kids have better lives. And he knows that is the number one philosophy that I always preached for us at North East, and I know he’s going to continue that legacy. Because there’s a bigger picture to the world than just football.”