By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When West Virginia University defensive coordinator Joe DeForest was on the sidelines calling his defenses, he was always the most recognizable figure down there, which may not have been a very good thing considering how badly it was playing.
But there he was, his baseball cap on backward with his headphones put on over them.
Last week, however, head coach Dana Holgorsen moved him to the coaching box to call plays, a move that seemed to have an improved effect upon his performance. But, even in the warmth and quiet of the box, the hat remained on backward.
“Do you know what means?” he asked the other night when the subject came up.
Assured that the listener did not know, he explained.
“It means ‘Hi!’ to my Mom,” he said. “That’s the only reason I do it. It started 23 years ago as a way to let her know I knew she was watching when I was at Rice.”
Now DeForest is preparing for a return trip to what was home, Stillwater, Okla., to face the school where he had coached for more than a decade in a game with huge meaning to both schools and maybe even more meaning to DeForest himself.
“It makes me more motivated,” he admitted, taking a few moments before continuing on as he gathered his thoughts. “I don’t want to say this game means more to me than any other game, but it’s more heightened for a lot of reasons.”
He then began listing those reasons.
“I recruited a lot of the kids on the team. I was there for 11 years. I have a lot of friends and family there. My daughter goes to school there,” he said.
Think, if you will, of this in personal terms, of you and your own family, of living 11 years in a community.
Think of the ties you have to the convenience store, and how you have favorite restaurants, maybe even places where you go for quiet rather than entertainment.
You might even have told yourself that your car knows its own way to work and back home or maybe to the Little League field where you take your kids.
True, we live in a mobile society, and the ties are not as strong or as lasting as they once were, but it is hard to move away from your established territory, territory you liked so much that you avoided moving previously to keep his daughter, Ashley, in school there.
DeForest is a strong family man and openly misses his daughter.
“She was here last week. We’re excited about the game. We circled this one on the calendar for a long time,” he admitted.
Still, he’s now the enemy, the man trying to take things away from friends and neighbors, things they considered important and pulled for him to accomplish when he was living in Stillwater.
“There are times guys at the grocery store rooted against me when I was there, too, just like everywhere else. It depends on whether you’re doing well or not doing well. There are ups and downs to everything.”
Ups and downs, yes, but there is no hesitation when asked if it doesn’t create inner turmoil.
“Is it going to be uncomfortable? No,” he said, interviewing himself at the moment. “I’m working for West Virginia, and I’m going to try to beat Oklahoma State the best I can. It’s actually going to be a more fun environment for me because there is more at stake or more involved in the whole situation.”
While the situation may be abnormal for DeForest, it is what it is — a football game.
“They are just another opponent to me. It’s just the next team on the schedule. I know that’s hard to say, but it is. We need this win to become bowl eligible,” he said.
No one would have imagined that going into the season’s ninth game WVU would need a victory to reach the required six for bowl participation, not back when they were the No. 4 team in the country. But a lot has happened. The offense has staggered, and DeForest’s position as defensive coordinator because the hottest seat in the house.
The defense was stopping no one, ranking last in the nation in total defense, giving up big plays, bad plays, and there were rumblings about the job he was doing.
So it was in the TCU game, a game that would be a loss but one in which the defense played much better, Holgorsen made a subtle change.
No, he didn’t fire DeForest or give him a leave of absence. He simply took him off the sideline and put him in the coaching box to make his calls on defense.
“I just felt like we needed a change. I thought it would help Joe to be in a sterile environment,” Holgorsen said. “There are a lot of bullets flying on the sidelines, and there is a lot of stuff going on.”
There were times when you were worried if they were real bullets, so ineffective was the defense and so unhappy were the fans.
“It is not uncommon for an offensive or defensive coordinator to call it from the box. It’s because it is quiet and he can see better. With Joe being more of a back-end guy than a front-end guy, he can see that back end a little bit better,” Holgorsen explained.
DeForest said I worked.
“There’s no emotion involved; there are no distractions. This is the game plan we had, and I wasn’t distracted by the emotion after a good play or a bad play. I could let the situation dictate what we had planned to call,” he said.
“It was just easier. First time in 23 years I was in the box, and I wish I’d done it earlier. It helped me concentrate.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.