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John E. Hoover: Mike Gundy is OSU football, but his actions are complicating his legacy

John E. Hoover: Mike Gundy is OSU football, but his actions are complicating his legacy
Mike Gundy talked Thursday about Baylor, his legacy and why he won't sign his new contract.

Mike Gundy talked Thursday about Baylor, his legacy and why he won’t sign his new contract.

STILLWATER — Mike Gundy has a contract on his desk. But why won’t he sign it?

“Well, in order for that to happen, both parties have to come to an agreement, and that hasn’t taken place,” Gundy said Thursday at his pre-Alamo Bowl press conference. “I mean, it’s a pretty simple process.”

So there it is, in black-and-white, Gundy won’t sign Oklahoma State’s contract offer because he doesn’t agree with something in it.

Does Gundy want more money? A longer term? Does he want a smaller buyout? Does he want more control over things like scheduling? Is he trying to get more compensation for his staff, so talented assistants might stop leaving?

“Well,” Gundy said, “I don’t think that’s something that’s worth commenting on. But I don’t think there’s any reason to hide it. There’s not really any reason to talk about it. Hopefully that can happen, though.”

Gundy isn’t bigger than the Oklahoma State program. But, aside from his dreadful performance in the season finale against Oklahoma and his abysmal 2-10 record against the Sooners, he’s probably as close as it gets.

Gundy was the best quarterback in OSU history when he graduated. He then coached everyone who surpassed his accomplishments as a player. Now he’s the winningest head coach in school history.

Gundy, for all intents and purposes, is OSU football.

But consider his reticence over capitulating to simple contract language. Consider his recent dalliance with Baylor — Baylor, for crying out loud! Consider his ire over Boone Pickens’ comments after the Texas game on Oct. 1 (“I just have to do my job … if somebody feels it ain’t good enough, then hell, somebody else can come in here and try it. I’m good,” he told me).

Does all that complicate, compromise or maybe even redefine Gundy’s legacy in Stillwater?

“Oh, I would hope not,” Gundy said. “But again, just because we haven’t come to an agreement (on the contract) is not a negative. That’s just a business part of what we do.

“I love being at Oklahoma State. This is who I am. This is what I believe in. This is always where I want to be. But, there is a small side to what I do that is a business. And I would think at some point we would be able to come to what I would call a fair and reasonable agreement. And I would look forward to doing that. I wish that those conversations didn’t have to take place, but unfortunately, they do. That’s just the way the world works.”

During his press conference the week of that fateful Bedlam game (OSU dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half and was tied 17-17 at halftime, but Gundy and his staff coached timidly and the Cowboys faded to a 38-20 loss) Gundy expressed an appreciation for what the program has accomplished in his 12 seasons at the helm.

“A long time ago when we started this, my goal was … to put a quality football team on the field so that people that loved Oklahoma State football knew every Saturday we had a chance to win,” Gundy said. “The second thing was to be a year-in and year-out Top 20 program.

“I do get satisfaction in knowing that we have changed the thought process and the mental approach or the outlook for the Oklahoma State fans that have watched us for years and years and years. That is satisfying for me, because ultimately, that is what we set out to do. We want the people that come to the games and buy the suites and love to watch football to be proud of the product that we have.”

But this week, “there was a lot more to (flirting with Baylor) than what actually happened,” Gundy said.

He said 95 percent of what’s on sports talk radio and social media is “not true” but declined an opportunity Thursday to clear the air because he fears he’d be regarded as a sort of football Donald Trump who rankles the establishment by breaking his own news with his own slant.

“Now I become a person that, every time something happens, I put something out on Twitter, and that’s not really what I want to do and I don’t think that’s what’s best for our athletic department or our football (team),” he said. “And so I just really have to sit and watch it all.

“But what you’re getting at, there’s some truth to.”

I asked Gundy to identify the biggest challenges in coaching football at Oklahoma State. He said “we got out of our box a little bit” in recruiting for a couple years and OSU was left at the altar, and that set the program back. Now, he said, Cowboy football knows its place in the recruiting world, and the program doesn’t go all-in on 5-star prospects.

He also said “the biggest challenge was trying to convince people we could win here without cheating and sustain it for a long period of time.”

Is that a shot at previous OSU regimes whose success led to NCAA probation? Or maybe a shot at other contemporary up-and-comer programs who have bent or broken rules during their rise to prominence?

When I first asked Gundy Thursday about his legacy, he said, “You know me, you know I could really care less about that.

“The most important thing is the team,” Gundy continued. “I’ve always told them, if there’s any truth to anything that would ever happen, they would be the first to know. And that’s the way I’ve always kept it with those guys from a long time ago.”

However, Franchise sources on the OSU coaching staff who learned of Gundy’s brief but curious fling with Baylor from social media and talk radio, rather than from Gundy himself, might disagree with that.

Flirting with Baylor was a power move to get the contract done, simple as that. It seems unlikely that athletic director Mike Holder or OSU’s board of regents or Pickens himself bought it.

Still, Gundy doesn’t easily dismiss what his own legacy at OSU means to him.

He said he watched the recent Kevin Costner sports film “McFarland, USA” on Wednesday night and may have come away with a greater sense of identity about himself.

“I know this is an extreme because we’re here, we’re a Power 5 school, there’s millions and millions of dollars involved and (the people depicted in the film are) just at a place, a high school,” Gundy said, “but what that coach is, he changed the lives of those kids. He changed generations of families who didn’t have an opportunity and he gave them something and gave them a reason to get into college, and then from that point on, their lives changed.

“In the end, that’s really what we do. Now, if we don’t win enough games, they fire us and hire somebody else, I know all that. I get it. But when you do it as long as I (have), we get as much satisfaction from that as anything, and that’s the legacy that I prefer more than anything else.”


Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.

 

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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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