STILLWATER — Ask Glenn Spencer what will be different about Oklahoma State’s defense under his direction, and he starts with a roundabout answer but ultimately arrives at a simple conclusion.
The new coordinator first rattles off the Cowboys’ immense playbook, which features a wide variety of defensive fronts and blitz packages and coverages.
It's a playbook that's still largely the same as last season. But if you alter the coach whose job is to mix and match those plays, change will inevitably come.
“To put one thing on it, this is going to change, I can't do that,” Spencer said. “It's gonna be different, because I'm a different guy. I plan different. I'm gonna have different answers when we're getting hurt or trying to stay ahead of those issues.
“It's naturally going to be a different defense.”
And Cowboy coach Mike Gundy is just fine with that. Actually, that's exactly what Gundy wants.
“If I felt like our defense was a disaster, then we wipe them all out,” Gundy said. “Sounds harsh, but that's the way our profession is.”
Instead, Bill Young was the man not retained for 2013. And there were reasons. The Cowboys struggled mightily against two potent offenses down the stretch, allowing more than 1,200 yards and 92 points over back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Baylor to end the regular season. The cornerbacks consistently gave opposing receivers a 10-yard cushion to make the catch. And OSU failed to generate the same level of turnovers that had become its calling card in previous seasons.
But that transition itself from Young to Spencer, at least from a formal announcement standpoint, was a bit messy.
Gundy notified Spencer shortly after the Heart of Dallas Bowl that he would be elevated from co-defensive coordinator to defensive coordinator. Word started to leak out shortly after that Young was looking for a new job and would not return to Stillwater. OSU then made the change official with a short release.
“When you make a change, it's never easy, it's never comfortable,” Gundy said. “But I had to make that decision. That didn't mean anybody is not a good football coach. And Bill Young is who we're talking about. Very good football coach. Tremendous for us.
“But we needed a change, we needed a spark.”
Spencer prefers the word intensity. It's a characteristic that's always oozed from the passionate coach, in conversation and in his inspirational Twitter posts and in his work with his linebackers.
Now he hopes to inject that into the entire defensive unit.
“That's just me,” he said. “That's just trying to get the best defense on the field, and it's gotta start there. Technique things we stress. Schematic things we stress. Alignments, assignments and landmarks, all those things that great defenses have to do.
“But it all comes down to that, intensity and emotion. If you have great intensity and great strain, whenever there's a breakdown, it's amazing how somebody will show up to make up for it.”
Spencer, who was last a defensive coordinator during his time at West Georgia in the late 1990s, did gain valuable experience while working closely with Young on game planning for the past two seasons. Then when Young had an aneurysm removed last fall, Spencer filled in as the acting defensive coordinator for OSU's first two games.
That was different, though. Spencer was trying to keep the status quo for the players. And he was missing something.
“I didn't have myself in my ear, staying ahead and giving alerts and adjustments,” Spencer said. “I missed those extra set of eyes that we didn't have then.”
Spencer is looking for the assistant to fill that role now. He's leaning toward moving from the coaches' box to the sideline in the fall so he can feel the pulse of the team on the field and talk to his players face-to-face. But he has the summer to figure all of that out.
The biggest adjustment so far, Spencer said, is always remaining one day ahead of schedule, so staff meetings are efficient and corrections are made in a timely manner.
Gundy is pleased with how Spencer has handled himself since being promoted. And this spring presents the next challenge.
“The organization, the structure, the staff continuity, everything that's important in getting started has been really good,” Gundy said. “His approach to the players and them buying in has been good.
“Now comes the part that really matters — being productive on the field.”