John E. Hoover: Former OSU special teams coach DeForest leaves big shoes to fill
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Thursday, August 02, 2012
8/02/12 at 6:12 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: DeForest leaves big shoes to fill at OSU
Everyone asks Mike Gundy how he could possibly replace quarterback Brandon Weeden, or wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or even defensive end Jamie Blatnick.
But the overriding question for Oklahoma State's eternally optimistic head football coach isn't about players.
How will he replace Joe DeForest? How can Gundy possibly replace college football's most talented, most dynamic and most productive special teams coach?
"It's always difficult to replace a coach," Gundy said Wednesday after a sizzling morning at his annual preseason press golf outing at Karsten Creek. "But we've done it before and that's kind of the way it is."
Forget defense for now. DeForest always seemed to get the most out of his cornerbacks, whether they were undersized overachievers (Vernon Grant or Daniel McLemore) or NFL prospects (Darrent Williams or Perrish Cox), but the Cowboys will continue to find talented DBs.
Forget recruiting for a second. DeForest's electric enthusiasm, particularly in the Houston area, will be missed, no doubt. But just about every college coach you meet these days is an accomplished salesman. Someone will still frequent South Texas for prospects.
DeForest's greatest value to the OSU program was in special teams. No coach produced better special teams year in and year out than DeForest.
Alas, DeForest is off to help coordinate West Virginia's defense, one of the top lieutenants to former OSU offensive savant Dana Holgorsen.
The Cowboys' game-changing special teams play now falls to the hands of a 20-something graduate assistant, former Texas Tech linebacker and Red Raiders GA Ty Linder.
Linder, who lettered two seasons (2006-07) at Tech, coached special teams in Lubbock in 2010-11, directing improvements across the board with various Red Raider units.
But is that enough?
Under DeForest, Oklahoma State has won important games with special teams play, from touchdowns on kickoff returns to dominating field position with premier kickoffs and punts to timely field goals and well-executed fakes.
Can a first-year graduate assistant fill DeForest's shoes?
"We're either gonna give him all of it or part of it," Gundy said, "just based on how it goes in the first week."
Sounds like Gundy talking about first-year freshman Wes Lunt stepping in for the record-setting Weeden. But Gundy said that about Linder.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Nor should it be. At OSU, special teams is kind of a big deal. It's not to be taken lightly. If Linder appears over his head when practice gets under way on Friday, others will need to step in.
Briefly, here's how it worked under DeForest:
He was the special teams coordinator. He devised the schemes on kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return (he also personally coached the kickers and punters). Each main unit was presided over by an O-State assistant coach, and DeForest coordinated them and had final say on each week's game plan (though Gundy always had input and made the call on certain game-day decisions like whether to kick on fourth down or try an onside kick or attempt a fake punt or fake field goal).
That structure will continue with Linder, as long as Linder can handle it, Gundy said.
Gundy also said the special teams coaching assignments will change this season, though he said when it comes to deciding who does what, "We're not that far yet."
Gundy likened DeForest to an assistant coach who had to decide on an overall game plan, then delegate to other coaches to nail down the personnel and specific techniques.
All of which made Gundy more perplexed each time DeForest was denied a head coaching opportunity.
"He finished second on like three or four head coaching jobs," Gundy said. "But the comment I get from people is, 'Well, he's not a coordinator.' In my opinion, it's harder to be a special teams coordinator. Or, I shouldn't say harder. It translates into being a head coach more than a defensive or offensive coordinator.
"You delegate it out - 'You do this, you do this, you do this' - well, that's what a head coach does. So I've always been kind of amazed that that comment's come out."
What will be truly amazing is if Oklahoma State's special teams can stay special.