STILLWATER — Glenn Spencer leaned back on a cushy suite-level couch inside Boone Pickens Stadium.
But he didn’t look comfortable.
The Oklahoma State defensive coordinator squirmed and squinted as questions rolled his way during Monday’s media availability. These weren’t tough questions, mind you. Quite the opposite. These were questions about how well his defense had played against Florida State, how it went toe-to-toe with Jameis Winston and Co., how it didn’t back down from the defending national champions.
But finally, Spencer’d had enough.
Looking a little bewildered, he said, “I got off track because I keep thinking, ‘Everybody’s talking to me like we won the game.’ We lost the game. I’m getting all these questions like I would after we won a football game. And we didn’t. We didn’t do what we needed on our side of the ball to win.
But whether Spencer likes it or loathes it, that 37-31 loss to Florida State was a win for the OSU defense.
A win for Spencer, too.
His second season as a defensive coordinator is only one week old, and yet, Spencer has added a little more to his already impressive resume. A year after retooling the Cowboy defense and coming within a hair of a Big 12 championship, he took a defense with seven first-time starters up against a powerhouse and produced a masterful performance. Yes, his defense didn’t make quite enough stops to win the game. Sure, it gave up 30 points. But considering the opponent, the stage and the circumstance, there was way more good than bad.
Spencer just continues to impress.
Makes you wonder how much longer he wins over someone who needs to fill a big-time head-coaching job.
It really only seems like a matter of time before Spencer is leading a major-college program. He was a small-college head coach at West Georgia before making the move to major-college ball as an assistant. Over the past few years, he’s gotten a couple of looks from lower-level programs that needed head coaches.
Keep up what we’ve seen thus far, and the suitors are going to get better and better.
Spencer, though, insists he doesn’t deserve any credit.
“Oh, no, it’s not me,” he said Monday in one of his calmer moments Monday. “It’s (the players). It’s them wanting to play hard for each other.”
Spencer has helped instill that. One of his many mantras is “Play for the guy next to you.” He wants his players to play hard because they love the 10 other guys who are on the field and they don’t want to let them down.
That brotherhood, Spencer believes, makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts while motivating each player to play his best with his highest effort.
Spencer offered up a high-profile example from Saturday night. Cowboy fans remember Ofa Hautau going all out chasing Winston. The defensive lineman is 6-foot-2, 290 pounds. He is not fleet of foot. But he did not give up on trying to catch the Florida State quarterback.
On Sunday, Spencer showed that clip in the film room.
But after praising Hautau, he pointed out a couple other players who didn’t stay after it. They didn’t sell out. They didn’t give their all.
“There’s him,” Spencer said, pointing to Hautau, “and then, there’s you two. Just think if you would’ve wanted it.”
Maybe they wouldn’t have caught him, but really, who knows?
“Is this going to happen again?” Spencer asked.
The players promised that it wouldn’t.
Spencer, in case you hadn’t deducted, is a master motivator. Inspirational quotes. Thoughtful parables. But when I asked Mike Gundy how Spencer had handled the challenge of replacing so many players from last year’s defense and opening against a power like Florida State, the Cowboy coach pointed first and foremost to Spencer’s Xs and Os.
“He has a plan, and he does a really good job of getting the information across to the players,” Gundy said. “There’s a lot of good coaches out there, but they can’t get information to players, then the players can’t really play well on Saturday because they can’t understand.”
Gundy also praised how Spencer has stayed the course, and if there was ever a time that was evident, it was Saturday. The move to a more aggressive defense was eased last season with the likes of Justin Gilbert, Daytawion Lowe and Co. in the secondary. But when you’ve got a whole new secondary? It would’ve been easy to back down a bit.
Spencer admits an aggressive scheme was a concern heading into this season.
“But it was there last year, too,” he said, alluding to the fact that those players hadn’t played that style defense either. “When you play like that ... you think about the worst-case scenario that can happen. A lot of those kids are playing without a parachute.
“If you give them a parachute all the time, they all the sudden you’re a soft team. If they don’t learn, they’ll never get there. At some point … you’ve got to kick ‘em out of that plane without a parachute.”
It was pretty obvious this past Saturday that Spencer’s players didn’t need safety nets. The Seminoles, who return many of the players who made up the nation’s best offense last season, managed only three touchdowns and three field goals in their 14 possessions. The Cowboys came up with two interceptions and forced five punts.
“We were flying to the ball, flying around,” Cowboy safety Jordan Sterns said. “Coach Spencer did a good job making the play calls. We just executed.”
Credit to the Cowboys, but credit to Spencer, too. The guy can coach up a defense.
Just don’t try to tell him that this week.
“Nobody should be patting us on the back,” he said, continuing his mini-rant from that cushy suite-level couch. “We have not done our job to win a football game yet. And I’ll tell them that — ‘This is ridiculous. We lost a football game. We didn’t hold our opponent to less than what we scored.’
“All this is really garbage about what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
The Cowboys didn’t win. On that, Spencer is accurate.
But saying that he and his defense have done nothing, have accomplished nothing?
To borrow from another Cowboy coach who once ranted a bit: That ain’t true!
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.