Young charged by defensive rebuilding job at his alma mater

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
9:17
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Bill Young feels like he's finally back home again.

 
  Sean Meyers/Icon SMI
  Bill Young is excited about returning to his alma mater.

The veteran defensive coach remembers when attending Oklahoma State more than 40 years ago that Stillwater was "pretty barren." It was long before the chain restaurants starting flocking there and even before venerable local institution Eskimo Joe's opened for business.

But coming back to his old stomping grounds has other benefits for the 62-year-old Young other than reconnecting with his past. His wife has family in the area. Young says he's long felt most comfortable here after a nomadic experience that has taken him to nine programs and one NFL franchise since starting his college coaching career with the Cowboys in 1976.

"This is a great opportunity to come back," said Young, who was hired after a year as defensive coordinator on Randy Shannon's staff at Miami. "There were a lot of reasons I considered, but one of them is that this program looks like it's really ready to explode."

Young saw the recent improvements to facilities at his alma mater as a big attraction. And OSU's impressive 9-4 record last season caught his eye, too.

"When you win nine games, that's a fantastic season," Young said. "And after having played them over the years, I always thought it was a heck of place with a lot of potential. It was a no-brainer for me."

The wily veteran coordinator will have his work cut out as he attempts to transform a defensive unit that allowed at least 400 yards in eight games last season and ranked 93rd nationally in total defense and 109th in pass defense.

With a strong returning offensive nucleus, it will be up to Young's defense to provide the improvement that could boost the Cowboys into contention for the program's first Big 12 South title and first BCS bowl berth.

"I don't think there's any question we have the talent to win here," Young said. "We've got a tremendous offense and we're much better on defense that people want to give us credit for. I've only been here a couple of months, but as an outsider coming it, it's a neat situation."

The biggest key will be improving a moribund pass rush that was unable to pressure rival quarterbacks in losses against divisional foes Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas. Sam Bradford shredded the Cowboys for 370 passing yards in Oklahoma's 61-41 victory. Graham Harrell passed for 516 yards in Texas Tech's 56-20 triumph. And Texas' Colt McCoy passed for 391 yards in Texas' 28-23 victory. OSU accounted for one sack combined in those three games.

The Cowboys must improve against those teams in order to contend for the South Division championship. The most important facet will be development of a pass rush after OSU produced only 15 sacks last season to rank last in the conference.

"Our key will be what kind of play we get inside on defense," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "The difference in our football in the future and contending for a championship will depend on our defensive line and getting pressure on the quarterback."

That realization has also unified the Cowboys, who return six starters and showed flashes last season. Their upset at then-No. 3 Missouri last season was their shining defensive moment.

"You saw some of what we wanted to do last year," senior safety Andre Sexton said. "We had a great season with nine wins. Our defense played big at times, but we also fell short a couple of times. We're trying to change that.

"If we put together a full season of defense, I think we have a great shot to win a Big 12 championship at the end."

Young's previous work in the conference also gives them hope for a big turnaround.

Before coaching at Miami, Young's most recent job was at Kansas, where he helped lead the Jayhawks to a share of the Big 12 North title in 2007 and a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. His final unit at Kansas ranked 12th nationally in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.

Young is an unassuming, self-described "ball coach." He has been a defensive coordinator at traditional powers like Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and Arizona State over the years.

Gundy said that Young's coaching pedigree is one of the major reasons he decided to hire him. After being burned by having previous defensive coordinators Vance Bedford and Tim Beckman bolt for other jobs after respective two-year stints, Gundy wanted a coach who would have stability in his program to help it grow.

"I expect our football team to perform well and continue to get better as we have success," Gundy said. "And as we have success in programs like Oklahoma State, a lot of people want to know why. And that's what's happened to us.

"After Beckman left I was real concerned about that. I thought Bill was the best fit for a lot of reasons. It was a factor that we had a couple of younger guys who had ambitions about wanting to be a head coach, it might happen again if I had decided to go that way again."

His players have been impressed with Young's work after only two months on the job. They say he is more sedate and calm than his predecessor and has made teaching a priority so far in spring practice.

"Beckman was a more in-your-face guy," Sexton said. "Coach Young has been really laid back. We're learning what he wants and trying to get better this spring at doing it."

His dealing with his linebackers and safeties has been emphasizing a salient point that the Cowboys must improve their turnover production. He'll try to do that with a secondary that returns only Sexton among its starters.

Young noted that Oklahoma State blitzed heavily last season, but isn't ready to determine what kind of strategy he'll use with his defense. He'll get a better handle working with them over the next several weeks, leading up to the Cowboys' annual Orange-White game to culminate spring practice on April 18.

"We don't know what we'll do this season," Young said. "We'll get them together as players and try to put them in the best situation we can to win. If pressure is the name of the game, we'll do it. If zone is the say, we'll do a zone. I don't think you can stereotype yourself and say you are all this or all that. You have to be willing to mix things up."

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