Ten years later, Gundy is still a man, now 50

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS - Kirk Bohls

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.

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