Oklahoma State fans are frustrated.
I get it. I’m one of you.
This was supposed to be year! Tylan Wallace. Chuba Hubbard. The offensive line was finally going to be okay again. Spencer Sanders was going to be another year older and wiser. The defense was going to be improved.
Get the Bedlam monkey off our backs! Win the Big 12! Sky’s the limit!
Whispers of the playoffs…
Then the wheels came off.
Wallace has been as expected, but has missed some time with injuries. Chuba Hubbard has missed a lot of time and never really looked like the rushing champion he was the year before. The offensive line attrition started in the offseason with retirements and dismissals. It continued with injuries and NFL declarations. Sanders is as talented a player as OSU has ever had, but still seems to be a step out of sync.
The defense? Well it grew teeth that no one expected it would have. They have been this seasons most pleasant surprise!
The Cowboys sit at 5-3 now with disappointing losses to a Texas team they gifted a win, a beatdown in Bedlam by a Sooners team they wished they had played early when it was still finding its way, and an embarrassing loss to a mediocre TCU team last Saturday after forcing five turnovers.
There’s a little room for excuses. Out of 11 starters on offense in the season opener, only five started the game in Fort Worth. Three freshmen are playing on the offensive line. With the big guys up front in shambles it’s hard to run ball. It’s also hard to pass the ball. First-year play caller Kasey Dunn is in over his head. He expected a year learning the ropes driving a Ferrari and instead is behind the wheel of a Geo Metro.
It’s been a terrible situation and the fans want answers.
They also want Mike Gundy’s head.
Ah, Gundy! The brash but charismatic half-hillbilly head coach! You either love him or you love to hate him! The volume of the Fire Gundy crowd is louder than I’ve ever heard it right now. They think he’s done. Washed. The game has passed him by. Can’t coach. Can’t recruit. An embarrassment. We could do so much better. WHY IS HE STILL OUR COACH?
I’ll tell you why.
He’s the best coach Oklahoma State is ever going to have.
Sorry, but it’s the truth. A hundred years from now when people look back at the history of Oklahoma State Cowboys football one name will be at the top:
Michael Ray Gundy.
Now before you fire off a nasty email telling me I’m stupid, let’s talk about this. Gundy is getting long in the tooth as it comes to head coaches. He’s in his 16th year. Most coaches don’t make it to 20. His time at OSU is almost up regardless of how he performs or how you feel about him. And despite some flaws and blemishes his tenure has been pretty remarkable at a place where no one thought you could win.
Replacing Gundy won’t be easy for Oklahoma State, and that goes hand in hand with me saying he will be the greatest coach in their history. No matter what happens after him he will either get credit for being the guy that built the foundation and took OSU to a relevant place or he’ll be the only guy that could ever sustain anything good there.
I’d like to think Oklahoma State, thanks to Gundy’s success, has turned into a nice enough job they can get a quality coach to replace him. But even then they will never have another coach that even sniffs his career wins. His one Big 12 Championship might be tied, but is unlikely to be passed. Why, you might ask? Because if you win at the level Gundy has in Stillwater other programs come after you. No one will stay there long enough to top his accomplishments.
It’s the nature of the beast: Oklahoma State isn’t the smallest fish in the pond anymore, but there are some whales out there that dwarf them. Miami took Jimmy Johnson away. LSU took Les Miles. If you can win in a smaller stature program the bigger guys assume you’ll do just that much better with all the resources they can provide you. You know those schools, they’re the places where your company car isn’t a Chevy Tahoe, but a Mercedes S-Class. The private jet has the school logo on it, not the company of the donor that lets you use theirs.
Tennessee (twice) and Baylor reportedly came for Gundy and he said no, presumably because of his love for Oklahoma State after spending basically his whole life there. OSU pays him well enough, but Tennessee offered him $2.5 million more a year than he was making ($3.5 million more now after his pay cut this offseason), and if rumors are to be believed Baylor offered him a 6 year/$60 million contract to rebuilt the program after the Art Briles scandal.
He stuck around to the delight of half the fans and the dismay of the other half.
But a coach without the ties to the school Gundy has bolts in a heartbeat. You’d be dumb not too. Coaches say all the right things all the time. “Never happier.” “Can’t imagine myself anywhere else.” “I love these kids.” “I feel like we can build something here.”
Matt Rhule said all those types of things just a year ago at Baylor and he’s just now wrapping up his first season in the NFL as coach of the Carolina Panthers. Matt Campbell is saying all those things about Iowa State right now but Cyclone fans should be worried. (I respectfully disagree with my colleague Matthew Postins on this. He thinks Campbell would leave for only Ohio State. I don’t think he’ll leave Ames for just any job but I think any of the top tier Ohio State/Bama/USC level jobs could steal him). It won’t be long before someone comes for Chris Klieman at Kansas State either.
So if you fire Gundy or he retires, you may replace him with the next up and comer but if you do, and they win at a higher level that Gundy has, they will be in Stillwater for a maximum of four years and then you’re back to hoping they make the right hire again. There are better odds of you getting someone who can win at the same pace Gundy has, but then you’re just standing still. The greatest odd are that whoever they hire starts the backslide that Oklahoma State never recovers from.
The list of programs that thought the grass was greener is long. Nebraska. Tennessee. More recently Texas Tech firing Mike Leach. Even the rival Sooners decided to get rid of Gibbs just to suffer through a decade of bad football under John Blake and Howard Schnellenberger before hiring Bob Stoops.
But the Sooners have a football caché that Oklahoma State will never have. Tennessee and Nebraska do too, and still can’t get back to where they were when they fired Phillip Fulmer and Frank Solich respectively. Texas Tech might never recover from letting Leach go.
Consistency is both Gundy’s greatest strength, but also his biggest weakness. You know what you’re going to get out of his teams and a lot of the time it works. But when it isn’t working Gundy stubbornly sticks to it. He finally saw the light three years ago and moved on from the Bill Young/Glenn Spencer bend-don’t-break defense and brought in Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator whose aggressive style has grown into a positive after a few years of learning. In 2010 he turned over his offense to Dana Holgorsen and then Todd Monken, who made the Cowboys into one of the fiercest attacks college football has ever seen.
And that’s what needs changed again. The offense has gone stale. Ever since Holgorsen installed the spread at OSU, Gundy has stuck to it for 10 years through four coordinators: Todd Monken, Mike Yurchich, Sean Gleeson, and now Kasey Dunn. Each made little tweaks but it is basically the same thing they’ve done every year for a decade. It’s time for one of two things to happen: either hire a coordinator to overhaul the system like what was done with Hologersen or Gundy needs to get out of the way and let Kasey Dunn run the offense as he sees fit, not “the Gundy Way,” and see if things get better.
I had high hopes for Dunn as OC and thought the long relationship with Gundy would have built trust that allowed him a bit of a leash. Maybe the lack of a true offseason and the injuries on offense had an effect but we’ll have to wait for next season to see.
Gundy is a victim of the standards he himself created. The only reason people want him to win more is because he did it for a few years. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure it’s possible to win at that level every year Oklahoma State. Not under Gundy or anybody else.
Gundy could recruit better, yes, but not by a lot. Stillwater is a great town, but you’ve got to like that kind of place to want to live there. A five-star player from SoCal more than likely doesn’t want to move to The Middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. But realistically until the higher ups at the university allocate more money to recruiting, rankings in the low 40s/high 30s is likely. Oklahoma State’s recruiting budget is embarrassing. Bringing in another coach won’t change that. And there’s no guarantee the next coach could develop players like Gundy’s staff does.
Wanting Gundy gone is somewhat understandable in the heat of the moment, but I think you’re wasting your energy wishing for it. He will get to leave OSU on his terms, and quite frankly, he’s earned it. Despite the flaws and hiccups he has raised the Cowboys up to heights never seen.
A better wish would be for him soften and realize that while the game hasn’t passed him yet, it’s tailgating him with its blinker on waiting for the right moment. Stepping back and giving more control to his offensive staff to freshen up the attack is needed desperately. A breath of fresh air might give him chance to go out with a bang instead of whimper and all OSU fans should hope for it to happen. Not just for our delight as fans, but because Gundy is deservedly on the Mount Rushmore for Oklahoma State and we should want him to ride off into the sunset triumphantly.
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