Ten years later, Gundy is still a man, now 50
He’s no longer 40. Not even remotely. But by his own admission, he is more of a man than he ever was in 2007.
That said, Mike Gundy still might not be the epitome of a grown-up. After all, how many of those wear mullets cascading down their backs and playfully tease rattlesnakes with tongs?
But the Oklahoma State football program, which he has shepherded into the spotlight, certainly has grown into a budding powerhouse. The Cowboys have gone to 11 consecutive bowl games on his watch (at a school that’s been to just 27), flirted with a national championship in 2011 and just might again this fall. The Cowboys, ranked 10th, will open their season Thursday night.
And the school has the rant of the century from one of the most famous 40-year-olds in sports history to thank for it. Bobby Knight, you got nothing on Gundy. It still resonates.
You heard it; you saw it. Probably over and over again. The college football world couldn’t get enough of Gundy’s 3-minute, 20-second tirade against an Oklahoma newspaper columnist in September 2007, and neither could impressionable recruits and hopeful parents looking for
protective father figures for their sons.
Justin Bieber used the rant as his ring tone, which sounded off when the pop rock star was on the Disney Channel. A few days later, Gundy’s phone vibrated with Bieber’s latest hit at full volume.
The diatribe went viral, but Gundy has had a harder time winning over his own athletic director and school benefactor, even though he’s had the Cowboys in the top 10 seven times in the past nine seasons. He finally signed his five-year contract extension, which is paying him $4.2 million, after a lengthy wait this summer, and T. Boone Pickens and Gundy have taken turns ruffling each other’s feathers. Pickens declined to be interviewed on the subject.
“Mike Gundy is far different as a coach today than he was in 2007, and the same could be said of our football program,” OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder said. “I think this has a lot to do with maturity and very little, if anything, to do with the rant.”
The more times the harangue played out, the more doors it opened for Cowboys football, which, unlike Gundy’s boisterous rant, has quietly, steadily climbed into the nation’s consciousness. Oklahoma State remains a regional brand, even if its burgeoning image has slowly, consistently rippled beyond Stillwater in waves that haven’t stopped. And Gundy’s responsible. He’s a man. He’s 40. Or was 10 years ago. He has become the man. At 50, which he became on Aug. 12.
Much has changed for the unorthodox coach who has been as linked to his football program as maybe any person in sports history. Consider that Oklahoma State has had eight 10-win seasons in its history, and Gundy has been the quarterback or head coach in seven of them. Not only that: He has been on the field or the sideline as a record-setting quarterback, aspiring assistant coach or proven head coach in a full 25 percent of all Cowboys football games ever.
Mike Gundy is Oklahoma State football. His 104 wins rank 16th among active coaches. He’s had just one losing season in 12 years. He’s the face of the program, and what a recognizable face it is: deeply tanned and framed by college sports’ most unusual hairdo, a mullet that he first grew to mess with his young sons, who suggested he needed a haircut. The mullet became so well-recognized that it’s a celebrity of its own. He looks intently serious but can be downright goofy. His outburst was spoofed by a Norman, Okla., car dealership and even spawned a website called mikegundyismadatyou.com. But he himself keeps no memorabilia in his office, and the school is promoting no special anniversary of the hysterics.
That mullet has graced coffee cups, T-shirts and posters far and wide. It grew to what Gundy called “ponytail potential” and required a trim before Big 12 media days in July. It shared a national television screen with fellow mulleteer Barry Melrose and brought Oklahoma State instant visibility and credibility, a phenomenon that earned the school immense exposure on a national stage that even Gundy can’t stop raving about.
And trust me. He can rave as well as he rants.
Even he knew its value to the school has been “somewhere in the millions” and joked at media days that “it would be a good subject for marketing majors, graduate students to look into. I was fortunate to get a new contract and should probably get an extension and a raise for that free marketing for the university.”
He should and deserves it. The verbal boil-over put the Cowboys on the map with recruits even though most of the elite avoid Stillwater as if it’s Chernobyl. Consider that the school’s average recruiting ranking in his 13 classes, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings, is 32nd. He’s signed just 45 fourstar recruits, so he’s doing more with less, but maybe he wouldn’t have gotten that many if he hadn’t gone off on The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson in 2007.
“It was really kind of a turning point for us at Oklahoma State in recruiting,” said Gundy, who had been a head coach for just over two seasons at the time. “It opened up so many doors for us with parents and young people who appreciated that.”
One of those young people was Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State’s Heisman candidate quarterback, who got his first exposure to Gundy’s tirade as a 13-year-old living in South Carolina. Did he see it?
“How could you not?” Rudolph recalled. “I thought it was cool that he was defending his player. It told me he’s a guy who’s always going to be there for his players. For him to do that shows a lot of character. He was a dad figure.”
Well, kind of. Even though it was perceived that Gundy was rallying to the defense of displaced Cowboys quarterback Bobby Reid, Gundy didn’t follow up with his concern. He didn’t call Reid into his office or ask him how he was handling his demotion and public criticism. Reid left to play for Texas Southern not long after but repaired his relationship with Gundy well enough that he returned as a graduate assistant on Gundy’s coaching staff. He worked on SMU’s staff last season.
But all of that was behind the scenes. All the public saw was an outof-control football coach screaming at the top of his lungs at a reporter who didn’t deserve such treatment and calling her column “trash” and “garbage” and saying he “wanted to puke.”
Fellow coaches loved Gundy’s tirade and his locks, too.
Asked for his reaction when he saw Gundy’s mullet, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen said, “To be honest with you, I was a little envious.”
Just don’t fall into the trap that Gundy’s a novelty item, a college football curiosity off the sport’s beaten paths in remote Stillwater. This guy’s one of the most respected coaches in the game, someone who flirted with jobs at Tennessee and Arkansas and who could be in big demand if he ever chose to leave.
Sure, Oklahoma’s had his number, putting him in his place 10 times in 12 meetings. But Gundy’s the only coach to win four straight games over the Longhorns in Austin — not that Bob Stoops ever had even one opportunity.
In truth, Gundy’s offthe-field stuff obscures a brilliant offensive mind and a coach who has calmed down and realized he doesn’t have to micromanage his program any- more. He’s more patient and calm and rarely loses it on the sideline.
He doesn’t get nearly enough credit for transforming Oklahoma State from an also-ran capable of a good season here and there under head coaches like Jimmy Johnson and Les Miles into a program that rose from 13-15 before his blowup to an impressive 91-35 record since that seminal moment. Johnson was just four games over .500 and Miles seven games over .500.
“I think he’s starting to” get credit, said Holgorsen, who served as Gundy’s offensive coordinator before becoming West Virginia’s head coach. “I see a very confident, relaxed Mike now, and I saw a nonconfident, nonrelaxed guy six, seven years ago. They develop players there. They recruit well. I’m trying to get where he’s at.”
Gundy has had to develop players. He did land four-star receiver Dez Bryant out of Lufkin, but the only five-star recruit he’s ever signed in 13 classes was running back Herschel Sims, who was kicked off the team and now is at Abilene Christian. Oklahoma State never finishes in the top 10 in recruiting, though it did come in 18th with his second class in 2006.
Gundy has been spotted regularly since the tantrum, even as far away from Stillwater as Omaha, Neb., when this summer he decided to check out a College World Series game while he was in town for one of his boys’ baseball tournaments. Even though he wasn’t decked out in Oklahoma State’s brash orange and black, a couple of Southern boys from LSU and Florida noticed him and mimicked his tirade.
“They were having a good time with it,” he said. “I took pictures with them. They were 20 to 30 beers over the limit.”
He’s been asked to re-create the conniption on shows like Jim Rhome’s but has politely declined.
“I don’t know if I could do it or not,” he said. “But my 15-year-old could. He’s good at it. He’s capable of winning a talent show at junior high with it.”
What’s ironic is Gundy hadn’t even read the searing newspaper column penned by Carlson in The Oklahoman about Reid, a supposedly coddled quarterback who had lost his starting job, that set off the coach in a blaze of excess. And even more ironic is the fact that his vicious postgame press conference came after a victory — a 49-45 win over Texas Tech.
At the behest of her editors, Carlson declines to discuss it but says she and Gundy have kept a professional relationship in the 10 years that have passed. And Gundy concedes that he has neither the energy nor the fire in his belly to ever duplicate the wild scene again. He never truly manned up and gave her an apology, as he should have, or even had a clear-the-air conversation, but he’s certainly reaped the benefits.
Don’t be surprised if Gundy follows Bob Stoops’ lead at Oklahoma and steps away from the profession earlier than most.
“I don’t see myself coaching in 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.”
He does make an appealing candidate for places like Texas A&M, Texas Tech and elsewhere, but he’ll probably remain in Stillwater forever.
“I would think that’s true. Never is a long time,” Gundy said. “At some point you may be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But I foresee being at Oklahoma State for a long time and finishing my college (coaching) career there.”
He has developed a sense of humor about the episode, though he didn’t for a number of years. But very few are laughing at the man now.
He can just be himself. At 50.
Coach Mike Gundy’s “I’m a man!” rant at a newspaper columnist has had a somewhat remarkable 10-year impact on the Oklahoma State football program’s recruiting and branding.
Mike Gundy has benefited greatly with fans and recruits from his rant against a sportswriter in 2007, but he seems to have matured and calmed down a bit since. When asked to re-create the rant, he politely declines.