STILLWATER — It's been an expected scene during the early portion of each Oklahoma State spring practice.
Inside receivers coach Doug Meacham directing the Cowboys' kickoff coverage team. Wide receivers coach Kasey Dunn working with the returners. Running backs coach Jemal Singleton, safeties coach Van Malone, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones and other staff members assisting, as well.
Head coach Mike Gundy decided not to immediately appoint an assistant coach as special teams coordinator, a role previously held by Joe DeForest. Instead, coaching and organizing special teams has been a group effort during spring football.
“I like the way we're handling it,” Dunn said. “We'll evaluate again, I'm sure, going into (fall) camp and see where we are with trying to spearhead some things.”
But “spearhead” doesn't necessarily mean that one guy will be in charge of the entire special teams unit. There's a strong possibility Gundy could opt to not have a special teams coordinator at all in 2012 and instead continue to divide those responsibilities among several coaches.
The main reasoning for going that route, should Gundy decide to do that, is that putting the entire load of organizing and directing special teams on one assistant is a lot for a guy who also coaches a position. DeForest was used to balancing it all because he did it for 11 seasons at OSU and at Duke before arriving in Stillwater.
Dunn was also a special teams coordinator at his previous coaching stops at Washington State (1998-2002) and Baylor (2007) and knows what that extra workload is like.
“It was nice when DeFo would kind of come in and do it himself,” Dunn said. “But with a few more hands in it, I think it's pretty good. It gives everybody a little more responsibility, ties everybody in.”
Other factors to consider are that the new kickoff rule is designed to produce more touchbacks and essentially de-emphasize that play, especially with Quinn Sharp doing the kicking for OSU. Additionally, kickers and long snappers spend the bulk of each practice working on their own on a separate field.
So perhaps the question is if there's now less need for a special teams coordinator, rather than if the additional responsibility is too large for one coach.
Still, Gundy has had a special teams coordinator for his entire tenure as head coach. And DeForest built some of the best units in the nation, headlined by kickers and punters like Dan Bailey (Lou Groza Award winner), Matt Fodge (Ray Guy Award winner) and Sharp (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year) and dynamite returners Dez Bryant (Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year), Perrish Cox (All-Big 12 returner) and Justin Gilbert (tied school record with four career kickoff returns for touchdowns).
It's important to emphasize that Gundy still has not made a final decision on — or at least made public — whether he will appoint a special teams coordinator or use the group effort approach this season. That won't come until after spring practice. Dunn said he unsure which way Gundy is leaning right now.
Gundy's got options on staff to run that unit. In addition to Dunn's experience, Jones was also a special teams coordinator at Tulsa in 2007 and Malone assisted with special teams at Western Michigan in 2004 and North Texas in 2005.
But maybe it doesn't really matter if there's a designated “coordinator.” With Sharp and Gilbert returning, OSU special teams will be expected to thrive again in 2012.
Maybe a collaborative effort really is more effective than putting the entire organizational burden on one coach.
We could find out this fall.