STILLWATER — There are two members of the 2011 Oklahoma State football coaching staff who experienced — and contributed to — the Cowboys' entire rise as a program over the past 11 years.
Mike Gundy is one. Joe DeForest is the other.
So with DeForest's departure for West Virginia, where he will join the staff of longtime friend and former OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen as the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator, a large void will be left in Stillwater.
OSU has lost the coach who coordinated a Cowboys' special teams unit that was one of the best in the nation over the past five years. OSU has lost its associate head coach and safeties coach. OSU has lost the coach who was crucial to the Cowboys making recruiting inroads in Texas, particularly in the Houston area.
DeForest especially had a special knack for finding and developing top-notch kickers.
Matt Fodge won the Ray Guy Award for the nation's top punter in 2008. Two years later, Dan Bailey won the Lou Groza Award for the nation's top kicker. And this past season, Quinn Sharp was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year after handling the punting, field goal and kickoff duties — a rare feat for at the college level.
“He was pretty demanding, but in a good way,” Bailey said. “He expected you to work hard, and if you fell short, he definitely let you know. But it was a good thing. It was always productive.
“He's got a good eye for talent, and he knows how to get the most out of people and have them reach their expectations.”
Sharp credited DeForest with coming up with a unique practice regimen, where Sharp did not work out on Sundays and made Thursday his heavy day, to keep his leg fresh throughout the season. In the regular season, Sharp led the nation with 56 touchbacks and was third in field-goal percentage (.870), and his punting average of 46.6 yards would have ranked second nationally if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Dez Bryant was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a returner in 2008. Perrish Cox set a school record for most kickoff returns for a touchdown in a career with four, and Justin Gilbert tied that mark with his third and fourth career kickoff returns for a touchdown this past season.
Both Sharp and Gilbert will be back in 2012, but who will coach the Cowboy special teams? And what about the safeties?
How Gundy decides to fill DeForest's multiple roles becomes his main offseason priority. A hire will certainly be made, but someone already on staff could take on special teams coaching duties.
DeForest's absence could also have an impact on the Cowboys' current recruiting class.
At least seven 2012 prospects that have either committed to OSU or are still being targeted by the Cowboys were recruited by DeForest, according to Rivals. That includes five-star running back Trey Williams and four-star prospects LaDarrell McNeil and Bralon Addison, who have committed to other schools but are still being pursued by OSU before Signing Day.
Emmanuel Ogbah, a defensive end from Richmond, Texas, who was recruited by DeForest, said in a text message Thursday that he is still committed to the Cowboys. But he added that DeForest had a big impact on his decision to come to OSU and was the Cowboy coach he committed to.
“He was straight forward,” Ogbah said. “And he explained to me about the school — mainly academics and football — and also what the school has to offer for me. He explained to me like a mentor.”
Gundy has shown he has a great eye when hiring assistants. Larry Fedora. Tim Beckman. Dana Holgorsen. And Gundy undoubtedly already has a list of potential candidates ready to go.
But finding a special teams guru who already has a firm recruiting presence in Texas' Gulf Coast? That won't be easy. Finding a coach with those attributes that also has the deep roots in Cowboy Country over the past decade only rivaled by Gundy himself? That will be impossible.
Because the only coach with all of that is Joe DeForest.
Staff writer Jason Kersey contributed to this report.