DeForest could follow Holgorsen's climb up the coaching ladder
MORGANTOWN - When Joe DeForest helped Dana Holgorsen get a job as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator in January of 2010, it kick-started Holgorsen's rapid ascension in the coaching ranks.
Within 11 months he was hired as West Virginia's head coach for 2013 and seven months later he had that job a year early.
DeForest leaves no doubt that turnabout would be fair play.
"It's an opportunity in my career that hopefully will advance it,'' he said.
After spending 11 years at Oklahoma State, mostly as a safeties coach and special-teams coordinator, DeForest finds himself today on Holgorsen's staff at West Virginia. Although no announcement has been made officially as to what his coaching responsibilities here will be, DeForest will at least be the team's defensive co-coordinator.
On Thursday, when recent hire Mike Smith elected to return to the New York Jets, it perhaps increased the possibility that DeForest will have the coordinator title to himself. But that's not likely to all shake out until Holgorsen fills the remaining two positions on the staff.
Regardless of his title, however, DeForest sees the opportunity as one to move up in the coaching ranks.
"The reason I came here is it's an opportunity for me to grow,'' DeForest said. "The reason I stayed at Oklahoma State for 11 years is I promised my daughter I'd let her graduate from high school there. She's graduated from high school, so now I can get up and go.''
So what made DeForest's role in Holgorsen's rapid rise so important? Well, when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was trying to figure out what to do about a Cowboy offense that couldn't get off the ground, it was DeForest who pushed for Holgorsen. At the time Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Houston after having spent eight years learning from - but also in the shadow of - Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
"Yeah, I pushed for him,'' DeForest said.
Part of the reason was personal. DeForest and Holgorsen had known each other for the previous 10 years while both were recruiting the Houston area, and then when Holgorsen got a job at Houston. They'd become friends.
The main reason DeForest wanted Holgorsen on the same staff, though, was selfish.
"I didn't want to defend him,'' DeForest said.
As it turns out, DeForest and the OSU defensive staff were grateful they only had to defend Holgorsen's offense in practice. He took a Cowboys team that ranked 99th in passing and 61st in total offense a year earlier and made it the No. 2 passing offense and No. 3 total offense in the country.
That was just part of an explosion of offense in the Big 12 over the past few years, during which teams like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Missouri and others have followed the Texas Tech lead and become as wide open as any group of teams in the country.
With West Virginia set to join the Big 12 next season, DeForest knows the challenges that will be presented to the defense he is now expected to craft.
"If you line up in a stagnant 4-3 or a 3-3 stack or whatever it happens to be and you just sit there, then offenses know what you're in,'' DeForest said. "I'd anticipate a bunch of moving around and people coming from all different directions.''
This much is certain: West Virginia's decade-old 3-3-5 defense is history. It went the way of Jeff Casteel, Bill Kirelawich and David Lockwood when the core of WVU's defensive staff left for Arizona.
What it's to be replaced with isn't quite clear yet. DeForest has no preconceived or closely held notions of what kind of a scheme works best, and he certainly doesn't have much of an idea of the personnel he has on hand. Since being hired last month, he has spent most of his time on the road recruiting and probably wouldn't know Pat Miller from Will Clarke or Doug Rigg if they were standing beside him.
In fact, he probably knows most of the recruits who were signed on Wednesday better than the veterans, which means that spring drills and fall camp will be all about players proving themselves.
"Obviously everybody on the team right now on defense has a clean slate. Everybody gets to start over,'' DeForest said. "And the new guys coming in, obviously it's a benefit to them because they only come in 15 days [of spring practice] behind as opposed to coming in two and three years behind in the scheme. I think as a recruit you're thinking you have a pretty good chance to play early because it's a new scheme for everybody.''
And just what is that scheme? Holgorsen talked Wednesday of a 3-4 and a 4-3 without expressing a preference.
"It's a little bit of both, based on our personnel,'' said DeForest. "We just have to figure out what we have and try to fit those pieces to the puzzle and then recruit to what we eventually want to do, whatever that may be.
"But I think the [difference between] the 3-4 and the 4-3 is so small you won't even be able to tell the difference.''
Indeed, defenses these days are rarely regimented that way. The 3-3-5 WVU has used since 2002 never was. In fact, in its base it was designed to allow safeties to move down as linebackers or linebackers to step in as rush ends.
It's likely, though, that the new base defense will lean more toward a 3-4 than a 4-3, for a couple of reasons - the need to defend passing offenses and a lack of defensive linemen.
"It's a lot harder to find down guys,'' DeForest said. "You can find big safeties that you move down and make into hybrid outside linebackers, big linebackers you can move to rush end, and you have a lot more flexibility there because you have a lot more bodies of those types of kids. And so that's what we'll try to do.
"Speed's the name of the game. Going to the Big 12, it's all spread and it's all throwing. So you've got to have some speed on the field.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1