WVU football: Coaches' families ready for Big 12 debut
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Today, Melissa Patterson will board a plane back to her home in Marlow, Okla., two doors down from where her husband, West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, was raised.
She'll rendezvous with her son, Kelby, and later a few other parents of players on the local high school football team. They cook the kids dinner the night before a game.
Kelby is a receiver and a defensive back for the team and Melissa will cheer for him from the stands, catch a few hours of sleep and then take an early flight east Saturday to be in her husband's corner when the ninth-ranked Mountaineers make their Big 12 Conference debut at noon against No. 25 Baylor (FX).
Ashley DeForest is a freshman at Oklahoma State who finagled a schedule that has her off on Fridays. She'll take a flight Friday and travel to the WVU campus to root for her father, defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
It turns out everyone wants to see what the two coaches have up their sleeves. This is the occasion for which they were hired.
WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen targeted Patterson, even though he had just accepted the defensive coordinator's job at Arkansas State, because Patterson knows how to disarm spread offenses. Holgorsen learned as much when Patterson's Pitt defense stumped the Mountaineers last November. He talked Patterson into a fourth job in 14 months. The hook? "Come on," Holgorsen said, "it's the Big 12."
Prior to that, Holgorsen did what others could not and pried DeForest from the Oklahoma State staff because DeForest knows the Big 12 and can help his players understand it quickly. That is the reputation that precedes him this weekend when he readies for the first of five opponents he's faced between three (Iowa State) and 11 times (Texas and Oklahoma) in the Big 12. That doesn't count Oklahoma State and Coach Mike Gundy, with whom DeForest spent seven seasons.
"It doesn't mean they can't trick you," he said. "Everyone, through film study, knows the opponent, but when you go against somebody for 11 years, you know the little things about them. That helps, but they've got to execute what we transfer to them. I think the information we can give them this week will be helpful if they take that in and use it to their advantage."
As much as their work can benefit the Mountaineers, it is working for the Mountaineers that benefits them. WVU is the 10th high school or college Patterson has worked for since 1986 when he began as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, East Central Oklahoma.
His father, Bob, was a high school coach, but Keith's mother wanted her son to get a degree in business and pursue something less volatile. Keith just wanted to coach, so he took assistant coaching jobs at two high schools before becoming a head coach at Oklahoma's Edmond Santa Fe in 1994.
He did that for a year before taking a job as an assistant at powerhouse Allen High in Texas.
After two years, he was again a head coach, this time at Ardmore High in Texas. After three years, he was back at Allen in 2000. Patterson was out of coaching in 2001 and focused on his master's degree so he could one day be a college head coach.
"I played Division II football at a small college, so I didn't have a lot of connections and I didn't really know a lot of people," he said. "I kind of made it on my own through the years as a high school coach."
Patterson met Todd Graham along the way and was Graham's assistant at Allen. When Graham joined Rich Rodriguez at WVU, he tried to get Patterson to come along, but Patterson declined because of his family. The timing was better in 2003 when Graham joined Steve Kragthorpe's new staff at Tulsa. Patterson became the linebackers coach, and by 2006 was the co-defensive coordinator.
When Graham moved to Pitt in January 2011, he brought Patterson with him. Graham left for Arizona State after the season, but Patterson stayed at Pitt as the interim coach for the bowl and, who knows, maybe an audition for the head coaching job.
He was passed over and joined Gus Malzahn at Arkansas State.
"Everything that went down at Pitt was out of my control, but I chose to go to Arkansas State because I had one thing in my mind at that time, and that was my wife and my family and trying to do what I felt like was the best for them and not necessarily for my career," said Patterson, whose stepdaughter, Bretlie, also goes to Oklahoma State.
"Nothing like that ever crossed my mind. I wanted to do what was the easiest transition for them. Fortunately for me now, I was able to land at West Virginia, where we get to play in the Big 12 and I can get home."
DeForest was similarly committed to his family. A former professional player with the Saints and the Oilers in the NFL and the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, DeForest worked at Rice from 1990-94 and then Duke from 1994-2000. He stayed at Oklahoma State for as long as he did because of Ashley.
"I made her a promise and she went from first grade through 12th grade in the same school system, which is not common," said DeForest, who was on the Oklahoma State staff with Les Miles, before Miles went to LSU, and was retained by Gundy. "In this profession, sometimes you don't have a choice. I was fortunate enough to have a choice and I made the choice to stay. I had plenty of opportunities to leave, but the most important thing to me was my daughter."
It paid off in January. Oklahoma State, which had won the Big 12 championship, beat Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. The family was on the field after the game celebrating the win when Ashley gave her dad a hug. She knew what her father knew, which was that Holgorsen was going to be looking for some defensive coaches and DeForest would be a candidate.
"She turned to me and said, 'You can go now,' " DeForest said. "I said, 'Well, thank you.' It was awesome."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.