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DeForest embracing new role

MORGANTOWN - Forgive Joe DeForest if he's not much into reminiscing or looking back these days, at least not toward recent events.

Put it this way: If the guy drove a pickup truck it would be the model Bob Huggins likes to talk about from his youth, without a rearview mirror.

If he tended to rehash stories like Rich Rodriguez, his favorite no doubt would be The Lion King bit about the monkey hitting the lion. Why? Doesn't matter. It's in the past.

DeForest, though, isn't much into parables, so simple statements will have to do.

"I don't want to talk about last year,'' DeForest said. "Let's talk about next year.''

Well, OK. That's probably for the best anyway, right?

Still, in order to look forward to what DeForest is doing these days on Dana Holgorsen's West Virginia football staff, it is probably instructive to first see just how his job came to be. And that requires, at least in Cliff's Notes form, looking back for just a moment.

In short, he was hired to reconstruct West Virginia's defense in a manner in which it could move from defending Big East teams to stopping Big 12 offenses. That's no easy task, of course, so Holgorsen went and got a guy who had coached defenses (although not as a coordinator) and special teams for the previous decade at Oklahoma State.

It seemed a bit of a gamble turning a first-year coordinator loose in the offensively flammable Big 12, and as it turned out, it was. Without belaboring the point, West Virginia's defense was flat awful and by season's end, DeForest was watching Keith Patterson try to do it better.

Still, DeForest is considered a valuable commodity. He wasn't brought to West Virginia only to coach the defense, but to impart a bit of special teams wisdom. Which brings us to the looking-forward-not-back part of the equation.

It isn't exactly what he came here to do, but now DeForest is Holgorsen's special teams coach and associate head coach. What the second part of that entails is pretty murky, as it is at most places. The first part, though, is pretty clear.

"What I came here to do, what Dana's asked me to do, is help him develop this team,'' DeForest said. "And that's what I see as my role.''

"I get to coach everybody on the team. That's what I'm good at. I did it for 20 years. And we were damn good at it.''

Indeed, while DeForest clearly struck out in his first attempt at coordinating a defense, there is reason to believe he will be far more successful in his new role. He dabbled in special teams a bit last season, but not nearly to the extent that he will now. And his track record at Oklahoma State is a good one.

"We're going to try to change the mindset of how we approach and how we perceive special teams around here,'' DeForest said. "It's going to be an honor to be on special teams and we're going to find a role for everybody, whether you're a third-team wide receiver or a fourth-team tailback. We're going to find a role for you where you can take hold of that and say, 'This is my role right now.'

"That creates better team camaraderie, it creates a lot of team pride and the more guys that can get involved during the game, the better off you're going to be.''

Much of special teams is attitude. And in large part, that attitude is born of coaching. The best special teams play is generally done by teams whose coaches prioritize it, not by those who simply know how to draw it up on a board.

"That's what I'm trying to change,'' DeForest said. "The previous place I was at, we were really good. And I've got to do a good job of getting to know each kid and how each kid can help us in all eight of these units."

When DeForest arrived at West Virginia, I distinctly recall his mindset. He'd been at Oklahoma State for 11 years and gave up the security and comfort of his job there coaching special teams and safeties in order to branch out. His opportunity to become a defensive coordinator was as much a means to an end as it was an end in itself.

In other words, who knows where a successful run at West Virginia would have ended? But an unsuccessful one, at least in the job he was originally hired to do?

DeForest refuses to look at it that way. So the defensive thing didn't work out. Now he's back in a role in which he is proven. If nothing else, perhaps that makes his chances at success - and thus advancement - even greater.

"My goals haven't changed,'' DeForest said. "My goals are to make wherever I'm at the best place it can possibly be. And if that leads to something else, great. But I'm here, at West Virginia, and I'm going to make sure that we have the best special teams units in the country. That's what I'm embracing right now.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.


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