FRISCO, Texas — Oklahoma is without Bob Stoops. Texas is in rebuild mode. Still. And Baylor has fallen on hard times.
It’s time for Oklahoma State to fill that vacuum, to step into the void that seems to be forming atop the Big 12 Conference.
Not just this year, but for a prolonged stretch.
Can OSU become the face of the Big 12?
“You know,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy says, “I’ve thought about that.”
Gundy would be wise to think about it, especially in 2017.
Stoops unexpectedly retired and the Sooners don’t figure to be better this year (or next year) than they were last year. Tom Herman brings the fire, but the Longhorns were 5-7 last year and aren’t exactly cranking out NFL talent. And Matt Rhule’s team in Waco looks a lot closer to what it used to before Art Briles took over, created a Heisman winner, built a stadium and then bulldozed it all into a cesspool.
Maybe Gary Patterson has enough back at TCU to contend this year and beyond. The Horned Frogs have the facilities now and the access to players and the pedigree.
Or maybe Kansas State makes one last push under 77-year-old icon Bill Snyder. The promise is always there for the Wildcats, but a continued reliance on junior college prospects and having to develop marginal talent, along with Snyder’s advanced age, makes it less likely.
No, if anyone is ever going to wrest Big 12 supremacy away from Lincoln Riley and OU — and keep it away from Herman and Texas — then the up-and-comer is Oklahoma State.
“I think we have as good a chance to win the league as anybody,” Gundy said Tuesday in the underhalls of The Ford Center at The Star after his turn on stage at Big 12 Media Days. “Health is gonna be important, (for) multiple teams. You’ve got to get a break here and there.
“But this team should expect and prepare to win the conference.”
This year, for sure.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph is a future NFL player and might make a claim as OSU’s best ever. James Washington is a trapeze act at receiver, leader of OSU’s corps of Flying Wallendas. Justice Hill is a young, 1,000-yard runner, which is a bit on the rare side. The offensive line returns virtually intact, though still has plenty of room for improvement. And while the Cowboy defense might resemble an Oklahoma highway — lots of orange and constantly under construction — there’s still that combination of philosophy and athletic ability that can lead the nation in takeaways in any given season.
But then project beyond 2017, and OSU just might have staying power.
The stadium isn’t massive, but in terms of polish and amenities, it’s as good as it gets. Gundy’s new contract, complete with an automatic rollover, is finally set. His assistants are getting paid now, and so is his support staff. And, he said, the athletic department has given a substantial financial commitment to his recruiting budget.
“Those were the last two hurdles for us, those people that we need to take care of (financially), and then we have to be able to spend money (on recruiting),” Gundy said. “It costs money to recruit. It costs money to win. Winning is not cheap. I wish it was, but I don’t set the market.”
As much as anything, Gundy says he’s happy — as happy and fulfilled as he’s ever been.
“I’m having more fun now than I ever have,” Gundy said. “I’m really having fun now. I think that’s important when you try to stay in this profession for a long time.”
How long? Gundy turns 50 next month, and he gave two hints:
“I don’t see myself coaching into (my) 60s,” Gundy said. “I don’t think I can have the energy to do what it takes, in my opinion, to be successful and win at Oklahoma State being 60 years old.”
“Never’s a long time,” he said. “At some point, you know, you think you may be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But I foresee being at Oklahoma State a long time and finishing, certainly, my college career at Oklahoma State.”
So there it is. Gundy, the most successful coach the program has ever had, reaffirmed that OSU is still his New York Yankees job (but not his Dallas Cowboys job). It seems unlikely he will ever take another job.
“I would think that’s true,” he said.
So what defines ‘fun’ for Mike Gundy? Hunting rattlesnakes? Sipping from a ‘Big Daddy’ mug or munching on a banana during press conferences? Making promo videos while wearing a wrestling singlet? Growing out that filthy ridiculous mullet?
“Well,” he offered, “just with my players. I’m having fun with them. I want them to cut it loose and have fun. I want them to take chances when we play the games. I want to throw the ball deep. I want to have fun. And I think I’ve relaxed a lot now.
“Truthfully, I’ve gotten to a point in my personal life where I have security in a lot of areas. So it’s allowed me to relax and have fun, and I think that relaxes our team and allows them to have fun. I think that’s important.”
And a relaxed Mike Gundy means one thing to OSU fans: they should now expect championships.
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. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.