April 1, 2013 10:21:04 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Deshea Townsend says he hasn't worn or shown his new Mississippi State University defensive backs either of his two Super Bowl rings as a NFL player.
He doesn't have to. Just ask the players and the instant credibility is already there without seeing the actual jewelry.
"The big thing about Coach Townsend is he played and coached in the NFL," MSU junior cornerback Justin Cox said. "For me, that's where I want to be so you're going to listen to him right away because of that instant credibility."
Townsend, 37, joked last weekend in his first media session after a spring practice that the reason he is decided to make the jump to being a coach at the college level because simply 'there's always a time you just can't play anymore'
"My dad taught school for 35 years and then you look at the way I played, the way I was brought up to take younger players under my wing, coaching was just natural for me," Townsend said.
Townsend's age may be an advantage as he tries to break the stranglehold that the University of Mississippi program has had historically over his high school alma mater and the state's most prestigious prep program, South Panola. While a native of Mississippi, Townsend led South Panola High in Batesville to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state championship in 1993.
"Being closer to them in age means I can relate to them on a personal level and making that connection is always key," Townsend said. "I may listen to the same music as them and still have the same interests so it makes it easier for them to talk to me."
As a 13-year NFL veteran with Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts, Townsend won two Super Bowls as a player with the Steelers in 2006 and 2009. He spent last season as an assistant coach with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals before the entire staff including head coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't retained by management.
Townsend replaced Melvin Smith as the Bulldogs next defensive back coach. Smith left Starkville on Christmas Day for the same position at Auburn University under new head coach Gus Malzahn.
When the opening on his staff occurred, MSU coach Dan Mullen was excited about getting a Mississippi native with NFL ties working in Starkville. Before MSU started spring practices, Mullen contends he is not concerned with Townsend's lack of coaching experience in teaching these young players that need to be ready to contribute by August.
"Here's a guy that has tremendous experience, that's been through it at every level and had great success at every level," Mullen said of Townsend. "So I think what he can talk to the players -- not just the Xs and Os, but how to be a player. He really brings that and that really helps the kids, too."
The concerns with Townsend is his unfamiliarity with the college game and he inherits a defensive back depth chart that loses two starters likely to be picked in the 2013 NFL Draft in Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay. Townsend countered this past week that his new group of cornerbacks that include
Cox, junior Jamerson Love, redshirt freshman Will Redmond and sophomore Cedric Jiles. That group of corners does not have a start any any defensive back position in their college careers.
"With offenses trying to get 100-120 plays in a game, we're going to need everybody and the competition is fierce out here right now for playing time," Townsend said.
Townsend joked that he could've evaluated the returning members of the Bulldogs defensive backs with just a stopwatch.
"The one thing I learned is we have speed and that's a good thing because I, like everybody else, can't coach that," Townsend said. "Speed makes every coach better and they all want to learn their techniques and fundamentals."
On Nov. 16, Townsend's alma mater will come to Davis Wade Stadium when the two-time defending national champion University of Alabama comes to Starkville. He said last weekend he will not lose focus coaching against the program where he earned All-Southeastern Conference honors at.
"Football is football. I want to win," Townsend said. "I left one team I played with for 12 years (Pittsburgh) and played with another (Indianapolis); I wanted to beat that team I played with for 12 years. Whatever team I'm on, I want to win."