John Hoover

John E. Hoover: OSU’s recruiting failures, lack of spending and strong results back Mike Gundy’s methods in beef with Holder

John E. Hoover: OSU’s recruiting failures, lack of spending and strong results back Mike Gundy’s methods in beef with Holder

If he needs emojis to express his frustration with recent comments made by his athletic director, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy could use this gesture from a 2016 news conference. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Who knows how long Mike Holder has been angsty over his football coach’s recruiting efforts?

Maybe it started when Oklahoma State’s athletic director took a closer look at Mike Gundy’s 2019 class and saw some of the schools the Cowboys have beaten for the latest verbal commitments.

Or maybe it goes back a couple of years.

Holder said this week on a podcast with Pistols Firing crew Kyle Porter and Carson Cunningham, “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.”

It got me thinking about something Gundy told me before the 2016 Alamo Bowl.

When I asked him what was the most challenging aspect of coaching football at Oklahoma State, he offered the following:

“We went through a couple years where we got out of our box a little bit in recruiting, and all of a sudden we thought that we could get the Lawrence Taylor’s and those guys,” Gundy said. “We got left at a point late in January that we had all these good players that are making us feel good, and then when the nightclub closed down they all left with somebody else and we’re going home by ourselves.

“Not that we don’t want to go after everybody, but we now do a better job of making sure that we have a B-list that are really good players who can come in here and we’ve proven we can win the BCS bowls with. But we don’t want to get left out, and that happened to us a couple years.”

That boils down to Oklahoma State’s coaching staff getting realistic with its recruiting goals and not chasing every 5-star prospect in the land just because the Alabamas and Ohio States and Oklahomas want them, and having a backup plan for those they do chase.

Holder is right: Gundy needs to recruit better players. Gundy probably would agree wholeheartedly.

But Gundy is right, too: he and his staff needed to stop wasting their limited resources in pursuit of guys they had no realistic chance of signing.

Since his comments to me, recruiting results have borne out Gundy’s intentions:

According to Rivals.com’s current database, OSU offered scholarships to three 5-star prospects in the 2013 class, four in the ’14 class, four in the ’15 class, seven in the ’16 class and seven in the ’17 class. Gundy’s record in signing Rivals 5-stars from those four classes: 0-for-22. That’s surely frustrating, but also helps illustrate the difference between recruiting elite football players to OSU and recruiting elite golfers (or elite wrestlers), as Holder used to.

Gundy offered his comments in December 2016, so the damage in that ’17 class had already been done. Since adjusting his goals, OSU has made offers to four 5-stars in the 2018 class and, so far, only two in the ’19 class. He was 0-for-4 this year, but in the ’19 class, he seems to have as good a chance at landing Tulsa’s Dax Hill as anyone.

On the podcast this week, Holder also thoroughly patted Gundy on the back. But what stuck, of course, was the criticism. And it should stick. Not that Gundy is above reproach, but his recruiting strategies have, on the whole, worked pretty well. OSU football under Gundy has reached a level it never had before he took over his alma mater.

Holder is like Gundy and, frankly, any OSU fan: he wants to bring in more talented prospects.

“We do a great job of overcoming that with Rob Glass down in the weight room, and I think our coaches do a great job of disciplining and motivating and channeling what talent we have in the right direction,” Holder said. “… 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.”

We must remember that Gundy’s “limited resources” are provided by Holder — we’re talking recruiting budgets here — and should be a source of consternation for the coach.

Oklahoma State lags far behind the rest of the Big 12 in total football expenses. OSU’s growth rate over the last five fiscal years — since the Big 12 settled at 10 members and implemented an equal revenue sharing plan and began drawing massive checks from conference revenue distribution — is stale, and that’s puzzling.

While Texas (by 56.3 percent) and Oklahoma (54.3 percent) are spending way more on football than they did five years ago, and while every other Big 12 school has increased football spending almost every year (the other nine football programs are spending an average of 37.2 percent more than they did in 2012-13), OSU actually spent less in 2016-17 than it did in 2012-13, going from $19.95 million five years ago to $19.32 million last year.

And Gundy is supposed to go compete with Georgia and Clemson and OU with that kind of spending?

Rather than tweeting furtive emojis at his AD, maybe Gundy should have said, “I would approach spending a little differently than he does. I’d want to finish higher in those expenditure rankings than we consistently do. I think that ultimately puts a ceiling on what you’re able to achieve.

“I would just say, ‘Mike, you’ve got to change your thinking on spending a little bit.’ ”

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Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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