If you’re a college football coach, there’s nothing wrong with drawing a little attention to your program in the offseason.
And if you’re Mike Gundy, who’s always looking for an angle, always trying to close the gap between his Cowboys and the state’s darlings of history down in Norman, then what might be “news of the weird” at any other school actually becomes somewhat normal coming out of Stillwater.
Here’s a news flash for Gundy: there’s a typo on your Alamo Bowl rings.
Oklahoma State’s record in 2016 wasn’t 11-2, as depicted on this year’s consolation prize. It was 10-3.
OK, we know it wasn’t a typo. Maybe that’s the old copy editor coming out in us.
We know Gundy did it on purpose, a permanent protest to the officiating hack job that cost the Cowboys a victory against Central Michigan.
You remember the game. Sept. 10, 2016, Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU had it won. Gundy told quarterback Mason Rudolph to throw a long Hail Mary downfield and well out of bounds as the final seconds wound off the clock. But instead of the game ending, officials — including replay officials from the Big 12 Conference — said that poorly conceived play (no receivers ran downfield) was actually a penalty, intentional grounding, and since it was fourth down, Central Michigan should receive an untimed down. The Chippewas fired an unlikely Hail Mary of their own, which was caught, lateraled and put into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, 30-27.
Now, who’s to tell Mike Gundy what he can and can’t put on a bowl ring?
The coach who has single-handedly brought style to the mullet, the coach who eats bananas at his postgame press conference, the coach who hunts rattlesnakes with a guy named Wild Bill, the coach who flashes a giant “Big Daddy” coffee mug whenever possible, the coach who consents to wearing a wrestling singlet to promote an upcoming match, the coach who stands up to his athletic director and his billion-dollar booster by not signing his contract — that coach can do, quite literally, whatever he wants.
But let’s step into reality for a minute: changing your team’s record on bowl rings (which are already kind of ugly and look straight out of the ’70s) isn’t just bad form. It’s a lie.
Gundy had every chance to educate himself on the rules that describe intentional grounding. He could have simply told James Washington to run downfield in the vicinity of Rudolph’s out-of-bounds throw and the game would have been over.
But intentional grounding, Gundy said, “never really crossed my mind.”
Gundy also had every chance to educate himself on the confounding NCAA rulebook, which states, “The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down.” If he had known that, he could have run out on the field and stood over the football until the officials got their act together. (Now that would have been drawing attention to your program in a productive way.)
If only Mike Gundy had more time to learn about the rulebook. But he’s obviously too busy getting haircuts, giving interviews about his haircut, looking for “product” for his haircut, or making promo videos and hunting rattlesnakes.
Gundy also could have had Rudolph take a knee with four seconds to go, you know, take the snap, backpedal behind his security detail, stand for an extra count, and then lay down. Game over.
Again, the reality: changing your team’s record on the bowl ring is dishonor to the game of football, disrespect to your opponent that was resilient enough to win, and disingenuous to your team, who must now either describe that stupid loss every time they show someone their Alamo Bowl ring, or take to the grave their eccentric coach’s dirty little secret.
The Cowboys who played in that game know they blew a 17-7 first-half lead to a team that finished the year 6-7. They know they couldn’t get first downs against one of college football’s worst defenses, and they know they couldn’t stop a simple Hail Mary play.
They also know their coach didn’t take care of his own business that day.
“Even if the officials handled it incorrectly,” Gundy said that day, “it was still a dumb call on my part.”
Putting 11-2 on your bowl ring instead of 10-3 shows that Gundy absolves himself of multiple errors that day. It also shows his players it’s OK to not be held accountable for their mistakes.
Later, Gundy issued a comment that should have stood as the final word on the subject, but didn’t because he kept bringing it up just about every week.
“In our program, we talk all the time about controlling the things we can control and not getting caught up in the things we can’t control,” Gundy said in the statement. “We can control how we focus on and prepare for Pittsburgh. We can’t control the decisions that were made Saturday, so I do not believe it benefits our coaches or players to dwell on them and re-hash them beyond what we already did during postgame interviews, the comments that our athletic director made yesterday and now with this statement from me today.”
Falsely boosting your team’s record at press conferences, as Gundy did almost every week, is one thing. Promote your team all you can, coach. Wear a singlet, sport a mullet, eat a banana and sip from a “Big Daddy” mug if you have to.
But etching 11-2 permanently on your bowl ring is simply a lie.
Or maybe it really is a typo.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.