STILLWATER, Okla. – When longtime special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left to take charge of West Virginia's defense, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took advantage of a new NCAA rule to help replace him.
Gundy brought in graduate assistant Ty Linder from Texas Tech and gave him oversight of the Cowboys' punts, kickoffs and field goals. It was a move made possible by a new NCAA rule that allows football programs to have four graduate assistants — instead of just two — starting this season.
Linder, an ex-linebacker for the Red Raiders, had worked with tight ends and special teams for four years at his alma mater before Gundy picked him to come to Stillwater. He had to wait in limbo for a few months until the rule took effect in August, in time for training camp.
"I knew we were going to need some help," Gundy said.
Oklahoma State also hired safeties coach Van Malone from Tulsa to fill DeForest's duties, keeping the number of allowed assistant coaches at nine.
Gundy ended up giving Linder a good deal of responsibility, along with some help. Another graduate assistant, Andrew Thacker, assists with the punt team preparations. Running backs coach Jemal Singleton aids with kickoff return plans, and Gundy works with the kickoff unit.
"He's not handling the workload like Joe did, but he's taking the lead on most of it and I've been involved in it a little bit more. I wasn't involved in the Kansas State game, but I was involved in the other ones," Gundy said, joking, after Kansas State got a 100-yard kickoff return TD from Tyler Lockett last week.
The Big East proposed the new GA rule as a way to provide additional opportunities for those with coaching aspirations, including minorities. As the title implies, GAs must be pursuing a postgraduate degree. The positions are intended for people who have finished school, or their athletic eligibility, within the previous seven years.
"More than anything, it allows you to bring them along as coaches, so there's a bigger pool when opportunities come for guys that are prepared for other jobs," said Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who started his career as a GA at Iowa. "It also just allows you to have more people, whether it's working with scout teams or hands-on with your players. The thing is, we deal with a lot of players. It just helps getting more eyes and people in their ears."
Oklahoma State's GAs have been high-profile this season. Beyond Linder, Jermial Ashley was pushed into a bigger role when defensive coordinator Bill Young had to miss two weeks early this season because of medical issues.
At Oklahoma, Stoops used the two extra spots to add a pair of former Sooners who'd played in the NFL: tight end Joe Jon Finley and All-American cornerback Derrick Strait.
"It's a big step, getting my foot in the door," said Strait, who started his new job in the spring. "And what better place to start than at OU? All in all, it's a positive thing for me getting my coaching career started."
While Strait said he's able to pass along tips from his playing career, he's learning as much as the players. He works with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and linebackers coach Tim Kish, trying to understand that position better. He also has some more menial tasks: preparing folders, hunting down information for his bosses, cutting up film — "small things that people don't pay attention to," he said.
But this is about opportunity, not celebrity.
Bob Stoops remembers painting houses every summer just to make ends meet. He's convinced now that Barry Alvarez, Kirk Ferentz, Bernie Wyatt and others on the Iowa coaching staff didn't really need the work done, but let him do it because he needed the money. Oftentimes, Stoops would have to borrow $100 from Wyatt and pay him back on payday.
Jerry Emig, the athletic spokesman at Ohio State, said the Buckeyes' GAs get a stipend for lodging and meals, and they can participate in the university's health insurance plan, in addition to having their tuition covered.
"You've got to pay your dues before you get to that level," Strait said.
Linder won't exactly get the chance to match wits with the man he helped replaced when West Virginia visits Oklahoma State on Saturday. DeForest left to become the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator, in part because it could expand his resume in hopes of becoming a head coach one day.
In DeForest's 11 years at Oklahoma State, his special teams were considered among the best in the nation — with Dan Bailey winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and Matt Fodge getting the Ray Guy Award for top punter.
"Joe's very good. His special teams' organizational skills for being a coordinator were excellent and his years of experience are excellent," Gundy said. "We have a young guy doing it that I think's an up and rising special teams coordinator at some point in his career.
"But we can't take a 27-year-old and all of a sudden make him as effective as a 47-year-old. ... He has to learn on the run."
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.