John E. Hoover: Former OSU coach DeForest challenged with role at West Virginia
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
11/06/12 at 5:18 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Former OSU coach challenged with new role
STILLWATER - Coaching can be an unforgiving and risky business.
For example, Joe DeForest could have stayed at Oklahoma State as long as he wanted - so long as he was content being an assistant coach.
DeForest was comfortable at OSU. His special teams and his cornerbacks had been outrageously successful. He had accomplished more in recruiting Houston and the southern regions of Texas than any Cowboy aide before him.
Furthermore, he and his family had become fixtures in the Stillwater community.
But DeForest aspires to be a head coach. To do that, he needed to stretch his wings and get a defensive coordinator's job.
So he joined Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, where he directs the Mountaineers' defense. Holgorsen and DeForest return to Boone Pickens Stadium Saturday when WVU visits OSU.
It won't be such a big deal for Holgorsen, who in 2010 was Mike Gundy's offensive coordinator for all of 10 months before he was appointed head coach designate in Morgantown.
But it will be emotionally challenging for DeForest. He spent 11 years in Stillwater - the formative years of his coaching career and most of his daughter's childhood.
DeForest's decision hasn't gone all that well so far.
DeForest's unit is 120th in pass defense - that is dead last, 120th out of 120 - allowing an average of 350 yards per game. In pass efficiency defense, West Virginia ranks 119th. Overall, the Mountaineers are 111th in total defense, and 116th in scoring defense. Only 11 teams this season give up more than WVU's 6.36 yards per play.
After a 55-14 loss to Kansas State, DeForest said things had become "unacceptable. ... I'm embarrassed about what happened tonight. I'm embarrassed. But it's my job to make it right. ... I'm gonna make it right."
When someone brings in a new coordinator, it's for one of two reasons: either the previous coordinator had a bunch of great players who made him look good enough to get a head coaching job, or the previous coordinator had a bunch of average players who made him look bad enough to get fired.
At West Virginia, it was closer to the latter.
Last season, under Jeff Casteel, WVU ranked 61st in scoring defense and 33rd in total defense, but that was against a Big East Conference schedule, not a Big 12 Conference schedule. Big 12 offenses this week occupy seven of the top 17 spots nationally in scoring offense. Casteel resigned in January and went to Arizona, where he reunited with former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez. Casteel wasn't fired, but it seems he, too, wanted to spread his coaching wings.
Whatever the reason for Casteel's exit, the affable, outgoing and passionate DeForest remains stuck with a major reconstruction project - a project that wasn't of his making, but, with six new starters this season, one he'll have to finish if he wants to continue that career ascension.
At OSU, offensive coordinator Todd Monken inherited some really good players and Holgorsen's system.
"I was lucky," said Monken, who worked with DeForest for four years at OSU. "Do you wish you go where there's an opportunity where there's really good players? Yeah. But sometimes you go into one where there are issues and whatever. But you've got to take that shot. Otherwise, you might not get it and you kick yourself in the rear end for years going, 'I should have taken that.'"
DeForest has come under fire for WVU's disappointing season, but as a first-year coordinator - and armed with a three-year contract - he deserves room for growth.
Football coaches who want to climb the ladder of success usually have a small window of opportunity to do so.
"They don't come around very often," Gundy said. "He had the opportunity and he had to jump on it."
DeForest was a finalist for three head coaching jobs over the years, Gundy said, but always finished runner-up because he didn't have offensive or defensive coordinator experience.
Maybe DeForest cursed his own fate by being so good at what he did. While Gundy sympathized with his wanting to be a head coach someday, Gundy said he told DeForest he would not promote him to defensive coordinator because that meant someone else would have to do special teams - at which DeForest was a virtual savant.
"You have to want to do (special teams)," Gundy said. "Because most of us start on Sundays at 10 a.m. or something, and if you're gonna do special teams, you have to start at 7. So you've got three hours of work to do before you ever start your other meetings."
DeForest and Holgorsen became friends on the Houston-area recruiting trail, and when Holgorsen became head coach at WVU, he eventually reached out to DeForest.
"It was a perfect situation for him with Dana as head coach," Monken said. "Not every guy was gonna give Joe an opportunity to be a coordinator. Just like with me. Not everybody was willing to do for me what Mike did for me.
"There's a certain time in all of our jobs where you're like, 'I've been doing the same (stuff) for so long,'" Monken said. "Eventually, the money isn't enough, the accolades aren't enough. 'I need a new challenge. I want to be a head coach, I want to be a coordinator. I want to do something other than what I'm doing.'
"The money's nice. But eventually, that's still not self-satisfaction."