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August 23, 2009
Young returns home to fix Cowboys defense
The circle of life has taken Bill Young back to where it all began - Stillwater, Okla.
And the timing of his return to Oklahoma State seems so perfect.
Here comes Young, riding back to his alma mater to save the day just in time for one of the most anticipated seasons in Oklahoma State history.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," says Young. "I went to school here [linebacker and defensive end from 1965-67] and coached here back in the late 1970s. I grew up in Oklahoma City and my wife is from Tulsa. This is just kind of a perfect scenario for me. And hopefully I can finish my coaching career here."
A stout defense is all that appears to be missing for a Cowboys squad that is ranked 11th in the preseason coaches' poll and looking for its first league title since claiming a share of the Big Eight crown in 1976. Former coordinator Tim Beckman departed after last season to become coach of Toledo, leaving a defense that ranked 93rd in the country and yielded an aggregate 103 points in season-ending defeats to Oklahoma and Oregon.
Defense rarely has been a strength for Oklahoma State, whose previous highest preseason ranking was No. 16 in 1985. This decade, the Cowboys never have ranked higher than 64th in the nation (2001) in total defense, and the defense has ranked 89th or worse in each of the past four seasons. The bleeding must stop if this is to be a magical season for Oklahoma State.
"Coach Young came in with a lot of experience, a lot of maturity," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who led the Cowboys to a 9-4 finish and a spot in the Holiday Bowl in 2008. "I know that our players were excited about his attitude and the way he approached our team. The confidence that he exemplifies when he talks to the players, the way he carries himself in the staff room amongst the coaches has been very good for me.
"I know sitting in the room, the staff room, at times there can be a lot of egos involved in coaching, and he certainly doesn't have one. I think that's really been a plus for our program."
The defense doesn't want to let down what looks to be one of the nation's most explosive offenses. Led by the trio of quarterback Zac Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State ranked sixth nationally last season in total offense (487.7 ypg). That trio conjures memories of a famous OSU trio from the late 1980s: wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes, running back Barry Sanders - and Gundy at quarterback.
"We have a tailback, receiver, quarterback and offensive lineman [tackle Russell Okung] that may be in the top 10 at their position in the nation," Young said. "We have to do our part on defense."
The defense returns six starters, and one of Young's goals is revving up a pass rush that was last in the Big 12 in sacks. Young's familiarity with the Big 12 - he was coordinator at Kansas from 2001-06 - and its myriad spread offenses means there should be no learning curve.
"You have to be multiple on defense to play in this league," Young said. "You have teams like Texas Tech that have the huge line splits that spread you out. You have all these athletic quarterbacks who can run and throw. You can be a good defensive team in this league and have average stats."
Young helped Mark Mangino launch Kansas into prominence, forging some of the Big 12's most effective defenses with less-than-blue-chip talent. Young oversaw two of the best defenses in Kansas' history in 2005 and 2007, the season the Jayhawks finished 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. After that, Young left for the coordinator job at Miami, where he coached just one season.
"It was really difficult to leave Coach [Randy] Shannon," said Young, who reportedly will be paid $315,000 per season. "He is a tremendous guy and I enjoyed working for him. But [Oklahoma State assistant] Joe DeForest called me and asked if I had an interest and I said, 'Heck, yes, I do.'
"After that point, I really pursued the job. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me."
Young has an extensive resume that has seen him serve as coordinator at USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Tulsa in addition to Miami and Kansas. He also has been an assistant with the Detroit Lions, Arizona State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State during a 40-year coaching career. His longest stay anywhere was for eight seasons (1988-95) at Ohio State, and he spent six years at Kansas. Otherwise, he has been on the move. But that may change, given that this is a homecoming and he's 62.
"Just look around this place," Young said. "We moved into our new offices in July. Wow, it is the Taj Mahal of football facilities. And the stadium is such a nice venue. When I played and coached here, it was very average.
"And we have [booster] T. Boone Pickens to thank. He had the staff on his ranch in west Texas over the summer for a two-day retreat. We went fishing. He has all kinds of ponds. Some guys did some clay-pigeon shooting. Some guys rode in his helicopter. We had a good time. He has his own golf course. The place has an airstrip. He wanted us to have some fun and relax before the season."
Now, it's time to get wound up. It all begins with a huge season-opening game Sept. 5, when No. 13 Georgia visits. There also is a huge game with Texas (Oct. 31 in Stillwater) and the regular-season finale Nov. 28 at Oklahoma.
"We are just trying to get our head together and put our players in the best position to be successful," Young said. "We are trying to mix together what each of us has done in the past that we all can execute.
"The linebackers should be our strength. But we lost three defensive backs and two defensive linemen. We have work to do. We aren't there yet. But we are getting better. This is going to be fun."
Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.