Six weeks after Damon Cogdell was hired away from Miramar (Fla.) High School to coach on the defensive side of the ball at his alma mater, West Virginia University, he sat at a round table inside the Puskar Center and spoke with the media.
“It’s a thrill,” he said of the return to the program where he played his college football. “It’s a dream come true.”
In front of him on the table was an index card. Cogdell’s eyes frequently darted downward at the card, which had the names of the defensive linemen he anticipated coaching during spring drills and the 2014 season. Before he’d respond to personnel questions, he would glance and make sure he said the correct name and position for each player.
The card was a crutch and clearly Cogdell needed it that afternoon. That’s OK, too. Before he was asked to watch film of returning ends and nose tackles or learn names and numbers, he took an NCAA exam and hit the recruiting trail. He had nary a moment to even box up his belongings at Miramar before he took the job on Dana Holgorsen’s staff.
Then, in a dizzying turn of events, longtime Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley was hired hours after Cogdell spoke with the media Feb. 21, the day he brought a single card and all the words he had to explain how he came to accept Holgorsen’s offer to join the 10-person coaching staff. Bradley, the senior associate head coach, slid into Cogdell’s role as defensive line coach and Cogdell was shifted to linebackers with first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
New names, new film, new index card ... all while learning a new role.
“It’s different,” said Cogdell, who started at linebacker for West Virginia in 1997 and ‘98. “I was the head coach and the athletic director (at Miramar) ... Back then I’d have to worry about girls basketball, boys basketball, the track team, the parents, the kids.”
Now, Cogdell is tasked only with a single position after spending a dozen years at Miramar, where he served as the head football coach since 2007 and compiled a 72-19 record. He called it a “no-brainer” to leave behind a successful program and a job he loved.
“The hardest part for me is leaving my family,” Cogdell said. “That’s what I didn’t want to do. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to coach in the Big 12. Coming home after work to an empty house is tough. We’ll have a bunch of frequent flyer miles.”
Cogdell had his first experience with FaceTime, which makes video calls, so he could see and chat with his wife, LeAndra, and three children (Destanie, 18; Amaya, 10; and Damon, Jr., 4). LeAndra is staying behind in Florida to help care for her grandmother.
“I didn’t want to bring that burden to her,” Damon Cogdell said.
Cogdell is also a Twitter neophyte. He had more than 2,000 followers within the days after his hiring at WVU, but only a few tweets.
“I don’t know how they got it that quick,” he said.
While Cogdell is learning the nuances of being simply a position coach, he needed no time to start paying dividends for the Mountaineers’ recruiting efforts.
Miramar lineman Yodny Cajuste committed to WVU in the weeks after Cogdell joined the program and signed with the 2014 class.
The Mountaineers’ 2015 class already has 10 non-binding verbal pledges, which gives West Virginia the No. 6 overall class by Scout.com and No. 13 overall class by Rivals.com. Half of that committed class is from Florida, including a pair of highly touted former players of Cogdell: Kahlil Lewis, a 5-foot-11 three-star receiver, and Kendrell McFadden, a 6-1 four-star defensive back.
Cogdell is from Miami, Fla., while WVU running backs coach JaJuan Seider is from Belle Glade, Fla. Those places are about 70 miles apart, and all five of the Florida football players committed to next year’s class are from a 42-mile stretch between the hometowns of Cogdell and Seider.
Seider, a second-year coach at West Virginia, assisted Cogdell in recruiting in the month after Cogdell joined the program, and the former WVU players will mine their home state together.
“You get another guy the university is important to,” Seider said of the addition of Cogdell. “This place means a lot to him. He’s not going to be a guy who is complacent. People might frown because he was only a high school coach, but everybody needs an opportunity. He took a program that was down and that other teams scheduled to get an easy win and he took that program and won state.
“He was a head coach, he was an athletic director, he was a defensive coordinator. What made him successful will continue to make him successful ... and that’s out-working people.”