A year ago, DeForest took over the defensive coordinator job at WVU, and the results were not good. West Virginia ranked close to the bottom of many defensive statistical categories in 2012, and it didn't even take the full season for the veteran coach to lose those responsibilities. The quick demotion, along with heaps of derision from a fan base quick to point fingers and lay blame, might have crushed the spirits of some men, but DeForest doesn't appear to be that type. He's taken his change of duties in stride, and is approaching his special teams coordination with all the enthusiasm that he believes contributed to his success at the job at Oklahoma State.
"You have to be resilient in this business," he said as he prepared for spring drills. "I'm the same person I was sitting here this time last year, I just going to do a different job."
Of course, the hope is that his performance as special teams coordinator is better than what he showed as the defensive boss, but he's not looking back to what happened a year ago. While he acknowledges that 2012 was not a success, he's now concentrating on improving West Virginia's special teams, and is doing it the only way he knows how – with total enthusiasm. Building that emotion on all the special teams is his primary goal during spring practice.
"We have to develop a mentality of [special teams] as an aspect of a game that can win or lose it. We have to create an excitement to want to play special teams," DeForest detailed. "I want to change the culture of how kids look at special teams here. I want it to be a motivating factor for playing time. I have to get them to have the same passion as I do in playing in the kicking game, and then once you see the results recognize that it is a big part of the game."
The urgency that DeForest is looking for extends across several fronts. There's the importance of special teams play, which he terms "one play and out". There's the urgency of finding players to man all of the positions – especially those suited to specific tasks. And there's the building process – techniques and base assignments need to be mastered in the spring so that full-squad practice can take place in the fall.
"Our motto is 'One play and out'," DeForest said of the driving force behind the need to get better. "There are no eight play drives. There are no third downs. We have to work at it and keep getting better. To find a player, put them on a special team and say "master this play"; there's no other play in football like it.
"We'll touch on every phase [of special teams] in the spring, but the most important thing is for us to develop technique. We'll be doing a lot of drills, and not necessarily the actual completion of the play. We need to improve those techniques to get better. We need to catch the ball better on returns. The snapping, kicking, holding and protecting, we will work on all of those."
Evidence of the approach has already been seen this spring. While placekicks and punts get a full team period early in practice, there are also other periods where the individual aspects of protection and coverage are worked on. Getting line up correctly, getting into the proper stance, getting off blocks, starting out in the right coverage lane – all of those things are worked on in small groups, to be assembled into the whole later on. Special teams practice isn't about just lining up 11 guys and sending them bombing down the field – there are individual skills to be mastered, just as there are in putting together an offense or defense. And similar to those units, it's all about repetition – snapping, holding, lining up, whatever – that will build the skills necessary to have good special teams in the fall. Evaluating those players is another step in the process.
"Part of what I am going to be doing in practice is walking around and evaluating kids and figuring out where they can help us in the kicking game," DeForest said. "We're looking at six or seven guys as returners, and anyone that has done it, or might have done it here had we not had Tavon, is a candidate. We have several of those guys to give a shot to."
DeForest looks at the return to his special teams duties as an assignment that has one unique privilege among assistants, and he's hoping to use that to find the best candidates possible for all six special teams.
"There's two guys on the staff that coach everybody on the team – that's the head coach and the special teams coordinator. I'm excited about it."