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Meanwhile, Mike Gundy keeps winning
The Oklahoma State coach, though nobody may know how and amidst many missteps through the years, still continues to defy gravity in Stillwater
Had to be 10 years ago.
Might have been longer.
Anyway, before most of the great sportswriting purges, I was chatting with, oh, let’s say, a prominent scribe about Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy.
The Pokes hadn’t turned in all the double-digit win seasons they’ve enjoyed since he succeeded Les Miles in 2005, but they’d had some strong campaigns, appeared to have crossed the threshold from occasional winning program to consistent winning program and, yeah, from the looks of it, the man had proven himself.
Still, what our conversation came down to was the OSU brass didn’t know how Gundy was doing it, didn’t know what to make of him. They liked the winning but remained stumped by the process.
Was it smoke and mirrors?
Was it a case of, “of course the football team’s going to win after Boone Pickens hands over half a billion to his alma mater’s athletic department.”
Was it dumb luck?
Meanwhile, in Norman, David Boren and Joe Castiglione knew what they had, knew they’d grabbed the right guy off Steve Spurrier’s Florida staff in December of 1998.
They knew, without a doubt, even after four losses in 2005, Bob Stoops was a man to be kept happy. They knew, even after five losses in 2009, they’d made the right choice all those years ago.
They understood him.
Stoops was constitutionally consistent.
The connection between him and the program’s success was palpable, tangible and clear.
Fast forward and …
I can’t lie.
I still don’t know how Gundy does it.
Though he’s been the most straightforward and blunt truth-teller on the subject of Oklahoma and Texas’ eventual SEC departure, his success remains a mystery.
I still see him utterly capable of tearing into a sportswriter with an epic and comic rant, as he did to to The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson on Sept. 22, 2007.
I still don’t understand how he relates to people generally, what with his 2018 assertion that Twitter’s “a platform for people sitting at home drawing an unemployment check” at a time he had 112,000 followers on that platform and now has nearly 136,000.
Nor how he wins young athletes’ trust given his 2020 willingness to act like COVID wasn’t even happening “because we need to continue to budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”
What I know, in this moment his Bedlam rival’s forgotten how to play and his program stands unbeaten and ranked No. 7, even as the secret to his success remains mysterious, he is the one doing it.
It’s not smoke and mirrors.
It can’t be dumb luck.
It ain’t Boone’s money.
After 16 straight winning seasons, six 10-win seasons, three 11- and 12-win seasons and looking like the class of the conference this season, it’s … him!!
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He’s done it with the same number of recruiting classes ranked in the 40s and 50s (five) as in the 20s, and none ranked higher.
He won 12 games last season, and may claim that many or more again this one, coming off recruiting classes ranked 38th (2017), 34th (2018), 35th (2019), 40th (2020) and 29th (2022).
Some places, recruiting numbers like that might put him on a hot seat. At OSU, Bedlam being what it’s been for more than 100 years, what Gundy’s done with those numbers defies description
Tired of him embarrassing the state, I’ve wished for his dismissal more than once.
The time he stepped in it three summers ago for wearing the T-Shirt of a right-wing news channel — OAN, part of the conspiracy-driven conservative media echo chamber that, among other things, called Black Lives Matter “a farce” — pleased me, if only to see him finally feel the heat for offending many of his players, tops among them Chuba Hubbard, his best player, who quickly tweeted “I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE.”
But now, though I can’t account for how Gundy’s managed such success for so long, I’ll try to believe his words in the wake of that racially-charged crisis — though they appeared read, not contemporaneous — is part of the Pokes’ success since.
“I had a great meeting with our team today. Our players expressed their feelings as individuals and as team members,” he said on June 17, 2020. “They helped me see through their eyes how the T-Shirt affected their hearts. Once I learned how that network felt about Black Lives Matter, I was disgusted and knew it was completely unacceptable.”
If he really saw it through their eyes, because that’s huge, it helps explain the program’s most recent overachievement.
The prior overachievement?
Should he write one, I’ll read the book.
And right now, I’ll pay more attention.
Texas Tech’s next at home, followed by at No. 17 TCU, home for Texas, at No. 20 Kansas State and at No. 19 Kansas.
Down is up and up is down in the Big 12 this season.
In the middle of it, Gundy and his Pokes continue winning.