STILLWATER — When Van Malone’s NFL career ended in 1998, he considered becoming a police officer. Or perhaps a counselor who helped children stay off the streets and out of trouble.
Coaching wasn’t on his mind at that time — until an old high school coach tricked him.
Elton Conger, then an assistant at Waltrip High School in Houston, convinced Malone to have a harmless chat with the football team at his alma mater. Malone naturally demanded the respect of the youngsters because of his pro background. But the players could also relate to him as one of their own.
“You could hear a pin drop when he was talking,” Conger said. “He commanded the attention right away. We had other pro ballers come through there, they didn’t have that nectar to get the kids’ immediate attention and hold it.
“He just had a knack for spellbinding the kids.”
A week later, Malone was invited to spend a game on the Waltrip sideline. And he couldn’t keep quiet. He started talking — and coaching.
“Then I was there coaching that next week,” Malone said with a laugh. “And I haven’t left it yet.”
Almost 14 years later, Malone is Oklahoma State’s new safeties coach, helping fill the void left by former longtime Cowboy assistant Joe DeForest.
“With having this opportunity, I think there’s great responsibility,” Malone said. “There will be nobody that will work harder than I will. There will be nobody that will do it with as much enthusiasm as I will, because I’ve been so blessed.”
Those who have most influenced Malone’s coaching career — most notably Conger and Gary Darnell, who was an assistant when Malone starred at Texas — always thought Malone could have a future in that field.
He clearly had the knowledge of the game, but he also had the infectious personality to teach and motivate. That showed through when he started a nonprofit charity organization in Houston called “New Beginnings” in 1997. Or when he also helped coach the Waltrip girls basketball team and became a trusted sounding board for those players.
“They would run straight to (Malone),” Conger said. “I didn’t even have to handle problems no more.”
But when college graduate assistant job offers started to come Malone’s way while coaching at Waltrip, he always resisted. He did not think he would be able to mentor college players the same way, because their egos would have grown too large.
His own former players changed his mind.
“I’d send guys off from high school and they’d come back and they’d still have that look,” Malone said. “That, ‘I want to learn. Teach me. Coach me,’ look. And they’d bring friends.
“We’d work with them in the summertime and talk to them and continue to try to be an impact on their lives. I said, ‘You know what? The next time I get an opportunity to coach in college, I think I’m gonna take it.’”
That next opportunity came in 2003 — at North Dakota State.
The job as the wide receivers coach was a significant pay cut and in a part of the country that was totally foreign to the Texas-bred Malone. But to sweeten the deal, NDSU offered to pay for Malone’s wife, Nedra, to start her Master’s degree.