TULSA — New University of Tulsa defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie is 48 years old.
He replaces a man who spent 50 years in the coaching industry.
Bill Young, one of just a handful of men to coach at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa in their careers, retired this offseason and handed the reins to Gillespie, the Tulsa linebackers coach.
Now, as TU players report to training camp on Wednesday and begin practice on Thursday, it’s on Gillespie to take what he learned in four seasons under Young and put his own touches on what he wants the Golden Hurricane defense to look like.
“His adjustments, game time, on the field and what he sees, things of that nature, that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken from him,” Gillespie said of Young.
Young grew up in Oklahoma City, was a star defender at Oklahoma State and got his master’s at Central Oklahoma. He spent six years in the Oklahoma high school ranks, then coached at OSU (1976-78 and 2009-12), OU (1996-97) and Tulsa (1980-84 and 2015-18). He also coached at Miami, Kansas, Arizona State, Ohio State and USC, as well as the Detroit Lions. Others who coached at all three Oklahoma schools include Larry Coker and Chris Thurmond (Thurman is currently an OSU analyst).
“I can remember the first time ever getting to talk to him,” Gillespie said. “Obviously, I knew who coach Young was. He’s a legend in football in general, in particular college football.”
And when Philip Montgomery reached deep into his Texas roots to tell Stephenville High School’s head coach, who had spent 20 years in the Texas prep ranks, that Bill Young wanted to interview him for the linebacker job at TU?
“I thought to myself, ‘Holy cow, how do I interview with this guy?’ ”
If Montgomery is going to restore glory to the Tulsa program, Gillespie will have some work to do. The Golden Hurricane last season ranked 76th nationally in total defense, 118th against the run. TU did rank eighth in the national in passing yards allowed and 22nd in fumbles recovered, but only stood 79th in interceptions, 123rd in quarterback sacks, 106th in tackles for loss and 117th in third-down stops.
“Coach Young was a great DC and I think coach Gillespie learned a lot from him,” said TU linebacker Cooper Edmiston. “There’s a few tweaks that he’s implemented into our defense that will really benefit us.”
Foremost on the to-do list is generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and disrupting what offensive coordinators have planned.
“We’re really aggressive,” said linebacker Zaven Collins, “and this year we’ve added a lot of new stuff.”
“We’re all gonna play hard for him,” said safety Manny Bunch.
Outside the program, not much is expected to change. TU finished 3-9 last year and was picked to finish last in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. But inside the program, expectations are high.
“Best defense in the country,” Bunch said.
That may be unrealistic, but Gillespie seems to have instilled confidence in his players and has quickly gained their trust.
“I believe very player respects him as a coach and as a man,” Edmiston said, “and I’m really looking forward to him calling the plays out there.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.