Nardo Notebook: OSU’s Defensive Coordinator Talks Kirkland, Simplicity and More

STILLWATER — Bryan Nardo navigated a media scrum for just the second time as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator Thursday.

It was my first time speaking to Nardo (I was getting married during his first availability), so here are three things that stood out about the former Gannon, Youngstown State, Emporia State and Missouri S&T coach.

Kirkland a “Large,” “Coachable” Human

Justin Kirkland has become somewhat of a mythical figure in OSU circles this offseason.

Coming from a small school like Utah Tech, Kirkland has a mystique to him that most 6-foot-4, 346-pound nose tackles might not have. Kirkland seems like the perfect piece to put in the middle of Nardo’s 3-3-5 defense, but why stop there?

“Justin Kirkland is a perfect fit in any defense,” Nardo said. “Justin Kirkland is a great leader. He’s a great person. He’s a monster. He’s unblockable. He would be very successful in anything, so to pigeonhole it in and say, ‘Oh, well in my defense he’s perfect,’ he’d be perfect if I ran a 5-2 Monster. He’s a great fit, so we’ve been very lucky to get him here.”

As a freshman at Utah Tech last season, Kirkland recorded 40 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks. But even when Kirkland isn’t getting tackles, his double team-demanding presence ought to open things up for the rest of the Cowboy defenders.

“That’s a large human,” said Nardo of his thoughts when he first saw Kirkland. “Large human, great person, big smile, big personality, and then he’s coachable. Sometimes when you get guys that big, they’re not as into technique because they’ve been so much bigger than everybody, but he’s very coachable, uses his technique well. Does everything you ask him.”


In talking with Cowboy defenders throughout spring and fall camps, phrases like “playing free” and “simple” have been commonplace.

Mike Gundy has mentioned throughout the years how much better players perform when they don’t have to think as much and they just know what they’re supposed to do and can do it. Although this might be a defensive overhaul, this type of simplicity could allow the Cowboys to get up to speed more quickly.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible and as much carryover as possible for the majority of the positions,” Nardo said. “Obviously there’s some where there’s always gonna be some kind of change, but if you look at Defense A, we can run B, C and D right off of it because it doesn’t change much for nine people, it just changes stuff for one guy. So that guy has to know a lot, but everyone else is able to adjust really quickly.

“We have quick buzz words. I’m a little bit OCD when it comes to language and words mean things. You can’t say this word means two different things, so if we tell them one word, they should be able to do it pretty quickly. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Player’s Coach

With Nardo navigating his second media scrum as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, a voice echoed through the Sherman E. Smith Training Center.

“Coach Nardo! Bryan Nardo! Yes, Coach Nardo! Yes! Yes! Yes, Coach Nardo.”

It was Ollie Gordon — a guy who doesn’t even play defense.

Have you heard of fan favorites? Nardo might be a player favorite. An example: Nardo had the safeties over to his house this summer. Here is a picture (note Kendal Daniels looks like a defensive end):

But that’s not a one-time deal. The more you scroll through Nardo’s social media, the more you’ll find pictures and interactions with his players throughout the years.

“That’s not something that’s been the last couple months — that was instilled in me from Garin Higgins at Emporia State,” Nardo said. “We believe in being family. We believe in taking care of our players. That hasn’t changed with me from being there. Coach (Frank) Solich talked about it at Ohio, you care about your players, you build relationships. Took it with me to Missouri S&T, took it with me to Emporia State and so on and so forth.”