What happens when an Oklahoma fan shares an honest opinion about Oklahoma State? You get an unpopular opinion.
Mike Gundy has been good to Oklahoma State. As a quarterback he led the Cowboys to what was then the most prolific offense in school history. Teaming up with Barry Sanders and Hart Lee Dykes in 1988, Gundy’s offense posted 47.5 points per game. As the head coach at OSU, he’s coming off his fourth consecutive 10-win season and has an overall record of 114-53, including 8-4 in bowl games.
High scoring offenses have become the norm in Stillwater under Mike Gundy. In fact, the 2011 team broke Gundy’s record by averaging 48.7 points per game. That year the Pokes were second in the nation in scoring, just behind Houston (48.8) and they earned the program’s first Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma State has been good to Mike Gundy. Not only did Pat Jones see fit to recruit and play a 5-10/165 quarterback from Midwest City, Harry Birdwell took a chance on a guy with no head coaching experience and promoted Gundy to the position when Les Miles left to take the LSU job.
OSU’s athletic department has poured millions of dollars into stadium renovations and then millions more into rebranding Cowboy football. Everything changed in Stillwater, the stadium, the uniforms, the logos, and even the level of play on the field.
Mike Gundy has been good for Oklahoma State. Speaking of branding, there may not be a coach in all of college football better at branding himself than Mike Gundy. The 10-win seasons have been rewarding but, love it or hate it, the mullet is genius. The “Big Daddy” coffee mug is brash yet extremely acceptable. The quirky videos in singlets, disrobing for Bob Stoops’ tribute video, and taking his shirt off with Mason Rudolph at a pep rally have morphed Gundy into a college football cult hero. All of this has equaled big dollars for Gundy and the university. In 2016, Oklahoma State benefited from $21.1 million just in football media rights alone.
The question is, has Oklahoma State been good for Mike Gundy? I’m afraid that answer is going to be a resounding “no”. Gundy is loyal to the university, even to a fault. In fact, he even called his shot on it.
“It’s been a long ride for me, but this my New York Yankees job,” Gundy said when introduced as OSU 22nd football coach in January of 2005. It’s what he said after that that may be coming back to haunt him.
“At times in our profession,” Gundy continued, “people will tell you you’re not supposed to ever let administration know you’re at your last stop. But I don’t have a problem with that, because I’m fired up to be here at Oklahoma State.”
Mike Holder became the athletic director at Oklahoma State about five months after Gundy was hired. Boone Pickens was already pouring money into the program when Gundy stepped to the podium for the first time. With Pickens’ millions came expectations that weren’t fair, or realistic, on Gundy. The 10-wins seasons don’t seem to be enough. The 2011 Big 12 Championship, and Fiesta Bowl win, weren’t enough. Holder and Pickens aren’t satisfied with anything less than a national championship, and they aren’t ashamed to publicly criticize the program’s winningest football coach.
“Mike doesn’t handle people relationships very well,” Pickens said during a 2016 podcast interview with the Austin American-Statesman . “And he gets mad about things. I’ve heard he’s written some notes about me that weren’t very complimentary.”
In response, Gundy fired back on a local Oklahoma City radio station. “I hate that he feels the way he does,” Gundy told The Franchise radio station. “I mean, I don’t know what to do. I just have to do my job. I can’t do anything about it.
“And you know what? At some point, if somebody feels it ain’t good enough, then hell, somebody else can come in here and try it. I mean, I’m good.”
In a June podcast this year with Pistol’s Firing Blog, Mike Holder took a shot at Gundy’s recruiting method. “He’s really matured into a difference-maker as a coach,” Holder said on the podcast. “I would approach recruiting a little differently than he does. I’d want to finish higher in those recruiting rankings than we consistently do. I think that ultimately puts a ceiling on what you’re able to achieve.”
If that statement wasn’t enough on it’s own, Holder doubled-down on it by saying that Gundy has autonomy over the program…but he suggested that Gundy change his approach and not “settle” so much on recruiting.
“At the end of the day, Boone Pickens, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy all want the same thing,” Holder said. “We may not always agree on the best course to get there, but at the end of the day, Boone Pickens and I have always deferred to Mike Gundy because he’s the guy in charge. He’s the one that will have the wins and losses next to his name in the record book, and that deserves autonomy over how you run your football program.
“I would just say, ‘Mike, you’ve got to change your thinking on recruiting a little bit.’ That would be all. I think sometimes we settle when we don’t have to. But I’m not out there recruiting, and I have no idea how to recruit football players.”
There’s no way that Gundy can feel like what he’s doing is good enough. There’s also no way Oklahoma State is going to win a conference championship this year. Yet, there’s he is just coaching away, mullet and all, as if there’s no internal struggles within the athletic department.
Yeah, he’s loyal alright. Everyone knows that, including an unappreciative administration. Mike Gundy seems to be sticking to his word with OSU being his New York Yankees job. That’s good for the university because his time as a hot commodity in the college coaching circles is coming to close.
Late last year, Tennessee became the latest school to get turned down by Gundy. It’s a move that many people, including myself, feel like he should have made. Can you imagine what he could have done with the resources the Vols have? Yet, it’ll be OSU orange, rather than Tennessee orange, that Gundy will be sporting again this fall. You can only turn those types of offers down so many times before the reputation precedes you when it comes to coaching search committees.
Replacing a starting quarterback and receiver that became one of the top duos in the conference means that OSU is going to have to rely more on a defense that will be shifting to a new scheme in 2018. That could bring about challenges Oklahoma State hasn’t faced in at least four years. If the 10-win season streak is broken this year then Gundy’s luster is going to take another hit, meaning he’s most likely stuck in Stillwater for the remainder of his coaching career. While that’s sure to just fine with him, I hope that Mike Holder and Boone Pickens can learn to appreciate it.