From Accountability to Authenticity: Leadership Lessons from College Baseball with Rucker Taylor, Head Baseball Coach at Davidson College

Headshot of Rucker Taylor

Think about leading a college baseball team. You’re working with 18- to 22-year-olds who also go to school and must keep up their grades. Team members are constantly in flux – graduating, getting drafted, freshmen getting acclimated, transfers from other schools, etc. Plus, you’re under pressure to win games.

You may not be leading a sports team but there are lessons we can take from sports and apply them to leading in a traditional work environment. After all, there’s one thread that runs through any strong team – good leadership.

In this episode, Rucker Taylor, Head Baseball Coach at Davidson College, shares his journey of getting comfortable with his authentic leadership style. Rucker unpacks his recent leadership frustration – what were the signs, what caused it, and how he ended up tweaking his approach to give his team what they really needed – more guidance and structure.

The Story

Rucker started noticing he was getting short with his team at regular intervals. But once he got the 10:30 p.m. text about socks for the next day’s game, he knew something wasn’t working. Rucker took a hard look at what was causing his frustration and realized he was the common thread.

He then got feedback from his team, fellow coaches, and coaches he admired so he could design a better approach. After leaning into some discomfort, he went back to basics and sat his team down for a two+ hour meeting to set guidelines and expectations. The results have been promising.

What Rucker Learned

After years of being head coach, Rucker got into a pattern of “they should know this, it’s common sense”. He also didn’t want to be the loudest voice all of the time, so he went the opposite way and left his team to figure it out.

Rucker came to realize is he wasn’t preparing the guys enough to develop them as leaders. Also, he recognized that was common sense to him wasn’t common sense to college students.

Rucker took responsibility for his frustration and set out to solve it. Once he realized he needed to set clearer guidelines and expectations, he made the necessary changes to build a stronger team. Rucker continues to evolve his leadership style into one that suits him and his team.

His Advice

“Be yourself – figure out who that is, what you’re most happy with and proud of.”

Links Mentioned:

Culture Amp State of the Manager (*it’s a survey, not a research study as mentioned)

Rucker’s Bio

After four seasons as associate head coach and six total years on the Davidson staff, Rucker Taylor took the reins as head coach of the Wildcats program in July, 2018. The 2024 season is his sixth as head coach, and he entered it with a 142-86 (.623) career record and already the third-most wins in program history. 

Named the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year in 2022, Taylor led the Wildcats to a single-season school record 43 wins and the 120-year-old program’s first outright regular season conference championship. The Wildcats finished 43-13 (.768), were 20-4 (.833) in A-10 play, and Taylor was named to Baseball America’s Coaches to Watch List.

The 30-24 campaign of 2023 was the program’s fourth 30-win season. Taylor has been a part of all of them. In addition, the Wildcats have won 100 games since 2021. 

Taylor has made an impact at every stop. His instruction helped lead Samford to its first NCAA Regional in 2012, then Davidson to its first Regional and Super Regional in 2017. As a player at Vanderbilt, he was a member of the Commodores’ first Super Regional team. His promotion to head coach quickly garnered some national attention, as Baseball America listed Taylor in its list of Top 10 Coaches Under 40 (here).

With Taylor filling a key role on staff, Davidson has posted its top five single-season win marks (29, 30, 33, 35, 43) and reached the Atlantic 10 Tournament seven out of eight times, including making back-to-back championship game appearances in 2016 and 2017. The Wildcats have ranked in the top of the league in multiple offensive categories since Taylor’s tenure began and have earned national rankings in slugging and on-base percentages, home runs, and walks. 

His expertise has helped 19 former players to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft.

Taylor and his wife, Victoria, reside in nearby Cornelius, NC.