OSU football: Safeties coach Van Malone reinforces importance of forcing turnovers

When he played at Texas and in the NFL, Van Malone says he was more worried about big hits than trying to intercept the pass. He preaches a different message to his players.
BY GINA MIZELL Published: July 15, 2012
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STILLWATER — Van Malone's voice during an Oklahoma State practice often rings louder than any Cowboy coach.

And the new safeties coach in Stillwater is usually saying the same word. In groups of three. In rapid fashion.

“Ball! Ball! Ball!”

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a coach for the team that forced an NCAA-best 44 turnovers a season ago is consistently urging his players to snatch the ball out of the air and away from the offense. But maybe those defensive backs really do need a little reminding — and work in that area.

Of the 24 interceptions the Cowboys tallied in 2011 — a total that ranked second in the nation — only one came from a safety.

One.

“I tell my guys, ‘Listen, you change the course of the game when you give the offense the ball back; when you take the ball from (the opposing team),'” Malone said.

That seems obvious. But Malone knows some DBs don't think that way — because he didn't when he starred at Texas and then played in the NFL for five seasons.

“I coach off my mistakes,” Malone said. “When I played, (trying to intercept the pass) was not my philosophy. My philosophy was, ‘You know what? I'm gonna knock this guy out.' I would knock a guy out before I'd intercept that football.

“You hit that guy, you knocked him out, they've got a new guy in (on offense). On third down, maybe the running back breaks a run for 80 yards for a touchdown. (Then) your hit does not matter. Maybe you should have let him catch it (before) — they may not have run that play. The thing is to change the game.”

So Malone's meeting room features photos of all his players with a running log of when each forced a turnover during spring practice, providing a constant visual reminder of that philosophy while promoting healthy competition. There's also a deeper focus on treating the defensive backs more like wide receivers by teaching them how to properly play the ball and look it in while catching it.

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