Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2015 12:00 am
By MARK COOPER World Sports Writer | 0 comments
STILLWATER — With no direct connection to Oklahoma State, Robby Discher thought he had no shot at the school’s open graduate assistant football position.
But he applied anyway, not thinking much of it as he worked to help finalize the 2014 recruiting class at Sam Houston State, where he coordinated special teams.
That was until he saw the 405 area code on an incoming phone call one day in his office. He wondered who it would be, then picked up the phone. Coach Mike Gundy wanted to bring him to Stillwater for an interview.
“I guess I was lucky they picked my resume out of a few hundred to even get a chance,” Discher said.
As Discher told the story last week, he was leaned forward in his chair in the clubhouse of Karsten Creek Golf Club. The Kansas City, Missouri, native is just 29 years old, and if you remove the beard covering the lower third of his face, he might pass for 25. Hired in February 2014, he enters his second season as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State.
More importantly, he directs the Cowboys’ special teams, a position for which he is trusted by Gundy just like any other assistant. It is the fourth consecutive season a grad assistant will coach OSU’s special teams (Ty Linder, now at Cincinnati, held the spot for two years before Discher).
In Discher’s first year, his unit was responsible for the play that will keep people talking about the 2014 season for years: Tyreek Hill’s Bedlam punt return for a touchdown.
The coach who had to frantically organize his players to take the field for a rekick was Discher.
“I kind of thought, ‘Hey, offense can take the field,’” Discher said after OSU was penalized on the first punt attempt for running into the kicker. “And then they said, ‘Repeat fourth down,’ so we just, real quick, brought them over and changed the call.”
His perspective on a season-defining moment in unique. But Discher’s journey to that 16-second play is especially remarkable.
After graduating from North Kansas City High School, Discher was a backup wide receiver at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, from 2006-08. Back then, it was an NAIA program. His coach in college, Fran Schwenk, said Discher was a role player who “contributed in a winning way” with his positive attitude. He didn’t record any statistics in 2007 or 2008, according to William Jewell’s athletics website.
After college, Discher worked as an assistant at Kearney (Missouri) High before catching on with Sam Houston in 2010.
Four years later, Discher was frantically preparing for his opportunity to break into the Big 12.
He remembers it vividly: It was the weekend before National Signing Day, so he was busy. It was not until Sunday night on Feb. 2, 2014 — the night of the Seattle-Denver Super Bowl — that Discher had time to put together his presentation from a hotel in Houston while watching the game on television.
He departed for Oklahoma City before the sun rose on Monday. OSU staffer Bobby Reid picked him up from the airport and drove him to Stillwater.
Discher interviewed for about four hours with Gundy, cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie and former assistants Jason Ray, Jemal Singleton and Van Malone. He presented his schemes, spending the most time on punts.
Discher flew back to Houston the same day.
He went home with a job offer.
“He was impressive from an X’s and O’s standpoint,” Gundy said. “And the people that had worked with him said that he was a good teacher on the field, and he is.”
Last season, Oklahoma State returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns — including a kickoff return that provided the difference in a win at Kansas. The Cowboys blocked six kicks, including three by James Castleman.
The unit will be remembered for just one play, though.
And when it comes to that game-tying moment in Bedlam, Discher has a secret.
He had higher hopes for the play before the return.
“The funniest part of that is I felt really good about our block call that week,” he said. “And obviously, we ran into the punter.”
Of course, he’s referring to the running-into-the-kicker penalty moments before Hill’s return, when OSU’s Jordan Sterns collided with Oklahoma punter Jed Barnett and put his hands on his helmet in disbelief.
Discher was feeling the same way on the sideline.
Oh, no. I might have just cost us this game, he thought.
When OU decided to punt again, he changed the call from a block. And though field position made it likely Barnett’s punt would land inside Oklahoma State’s 10-yard line, Discher shouted these instructions to Hill before the snap:
“You return this thing no matter what.”
Sixteen seconds and 92 yards later, those words felt fateful.
“I just thought that was a good chance for us,” he said, “and luckily it worked out kind of like we thought. But then also, a normal guy probably get a 30-yard return on that. Tyreek scores.”
Recognition beyond Oklahoma State
Last December, Robby Discher was awarded the FootballScoop Special Teams Coordinator of the Year award by FootballScoop.com. The website cited the Bedlam punt return and Oklahoma State kicker Ben Grogan's improvement in field-goal kicking -- from 61.1 percent accuracy in 2013 to 78.6 percent in 2014 -- as two reasons.
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