Taylor Embree wasn’t looking for a change.
On February 2, he was at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., coaching with the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
For three seasons, Embree, 31, was as an offensive quality control coach with the 49ers, working with his father, Jon, the team’s tight ends coach and it was a job he loved.
A few weeks after the Super Bowl, however, Embree got a call from new Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell and was hired as the Buffs’ tight ends coach, giving him his first full-time assistant coaching job and the opportunity to return to place that has meant so much to his family.
“For me, this was a unique opportunity,” Embree said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to leave where I was with the San Francisco 49ers unless the perfect opportunity came along and to me this is as perfect as it gets.”
Jon Embree was a tight end at CU from 1983-86, twice leading the Buffs in receiving. After playing in the NFL, Jon got his start in coaching at CU as a volunteer in 1991. In 1993, he was hired to coach tight ends and he spent 10 seasons on the staff. He then spent two years, 2011-12, as the Buffs’ head coach.
The oldest of Jon’s children, Taylor was born in Denver and grew up around the Buffs. While he wound up playing receiver at UCLA, Taylor has never lost his love for CU.
I knew the fight song since second grade,” he said. “Obviously my dad played here, my uncle (Sean) played here. To me, this is a unique opportunity because this is home for me and there’s a lot of pride and a lot of tradition. I’m familiar with CU. There’s not a place I’d rather start my coaching career then here.”
Embree brings youth and energy to the staff, along with a lifetime of lessons from his father. Jon is known as one of the best tight ends coaches in the NFL. He has coached two Mackey Award winners (Daniel Graham at CU and Marcedes Lewis at UCLA) and NFL Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. He has also helped several players excel in the NFL, including the 49ers’ George Kittle, who has become one of the most dominant tight ends in the game.
“He’s the GOAT, the greatest of all time tight end coach,” Embree said of his father.
Working his father and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who is considered one of the top coaches in the league at just 40 years old, prepared Embree for this opportunity.
“(Shanahan) puts a lot of pressure on you, especially as a quality control (coach), which was what I did for him,” Embree said. “He makes you learn the game from a whole. And same with my dad. That’s kind of how I got attracted to coaching tight ends. … I started to learn and understand that the game is played inside the box and working with my dad and Kyle, those are years that will stick with me forever. They both taught me things that will become the base for me as a coach the rest of my career.”
The opportunity to work with his father and Shanahan and help coach Kittle can resonate with players Embree recruits to CU. But, the impact will come if they are ready to work and develop.
“You’ve got to be good at run game, pass game and pass protection,” he said. “And in my mind, you need to know how to read the defense better than the quarterback does. It’s one of those positions you want guys that are hungry to learn, you want guys that are eager to develop and understand that it’s a process in developing and usually those are the guys that kind of think it’s cool that you worked with Kittle.”
Now Embree is eager to work with CU’s tight ends, a young group that includes returning starter Brady Russell.
“Brady Russell is one of those guys you want in your room and you need in your room, from the standpoint of he’s a true competitor,” Embree said. “He’s a true leader and I think he’ll really come out of his shell this year as a leader for the team.”
Outside of Russell, the group is loaded with inexperience, but Embree see’s a bright future with Luke Stillwell, freshmen Caleb Fauria and Louis Passarello and incoming transfers that are hungry.
“We’ve got true competitors and we’ve got guys that want to win and we’ve got guys that are hungry to learn and I can work with that any day of the week,” Embree said. “We’re setting a mindset of we’re going to out-tough the Pac-12.
“Coming from the NFL and watching the Pac-12, how you can win this conference is running the ball and getting after guys every single play. I’ve been in a system (with the 49ers) where that’s what we did for the last three years is just get after guys every play. It starts with the tight end. If you’ve got the mindset you’re going to go out there and make them feel you every play, we can go out there and we can set the tone for the offense. I think that’s kind of what we’re going to be doing in our room.”