OSU's Gundy may be testing Pickens' faith
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
7/06/10 at 10:29 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's BlogOriginal Print Headline: Pickens' patience may be near end
BY HIS OWN admission, T. Boone Pickens is not a patient man when it comes to his beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys football team.
At 82, Pickens knows he's running out of time as well as patience. So that begs the question about the future of Pokes coach Mike Gundy.
When he pumped nearly $250 million into OSU's football program, Pickens' gift came with only two stipulations. He requested the upgraded facilities to be the best available, and the Pokes must win a Big 12 Conference championship before he heads to that big board room in the sky.
"We have to move fast, because I want to see it," Pickens told me last summer. "I don't want them plugging away and doing a good job, and I (die) and five years later they've got a championship team. I want it as soon as we can get it."
A reminder of Pickens' growing restlessness came last week in an article by veteran and highly respected Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls.
Bohls included Gundy's situation in a column he called "a few semi-outrageous predictions for the 2010 season."
When it comes to Gundy's future, Bohls predicted: "Mike Gundy could be fired by December if manly Oklahoma State, which now has fewer weapons, continues to underachieve.
"Mike Gundy will be fired by T. Boone Pickens if Mr. Wind Energy — Mr. Hot Air, if you're a Missouri fan — thinks he's not getting his money's worth. Don't be shocked if new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen or Holgorsen's mentor and Cowboys consultant, Mike Leach, slips in as head coach."
There's an excellent reason why I don't think Bohls was just throwing the OSU thing out there to see if it would stick. Pickens recently visited the American-Statesman's offices in Austin, where he did a podcast Q-and-A session with Bohls about Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12.
Pickens didn't discuss Gundy's job status during the interview. But you have to believe he made plenty off-the-record comments before and after his podcast remarks, which include a shot at Mizzou for the Tigers' attempt to also leave the league for the Big Ten.
The elephant that will be in every meeting room during OSU's 2010 season will be the Leach-Holgorsen connection.
Pickens genuinely admires how Leach turned Texas Tech into a consistent winner. That included some victories over Oklahoma and Texas, schools that Gundy has gone a combined 0-10 against in his five seasons at OSU.
The stunning hire of Holgorsen last January set off all kinds of bells and whistles. The addition of the former offensive coordinator at Tech and Houston (which won at OSU last season) came two days after Gundy told the Tulsa World that nothing would change offensively in 2010, including him calling the plays.
(As an aside, it's no secret that OSU officials have told Gundy to quit playing his lying games with the media.)
Several OSU sources insisted Pickens met face-to-face with Leach last January, picking his brain about how to improve a Cowboys offense that struggled mightily in the Bedlam game and the Cotton Bowl.
Pickens has never confirmed or denied numerous reports that his private jet flew Leach to either his Pickens ranch or Stillwater for the clandestine meeting.
The billionaire investor did, however, tell me directly that he was not a happy Cowboy when he departed the Cotton Bowl in the final minutes of Mississippi's 21-7 win over OSU. Pickens was steamed after watching an inept, ugly Cowboys offense, which had been shut out the previous game at Oklahoma, commit six of its seven turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Although plagued by problems and injuries, OSU ended the season a respectable 9-4. It was the fourth consecutive winning season and bowl appearance under Gundy, who is 36-27 overall at his alma mater.
Back in the day, bowl appearances and winning records would have been major achievements at OSU. But Pickens made it a new and completely different day when he donated a significant portion of his fortune to OSU football.
If the preseason polls and magazine predictions are accurate, Pickens won't see OSU win the 2010 Big 12 title. Some polls rank the Cowboys last in the six-team Big 12 South Division, placing them behind even the heretofore bad news Baylor Bears.
There is no doubt Leach will win big and sell gobs of tickets when he eventually returns to coach. Now living in Florida after his controversial departure from Tech, Leach told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week that he intends to soon be back in coaching.
"I don't have a crystal ball on that (return)," Leach said. "But I don't guess they've heard the last of me."
OU's offensive coordinator for one season before taking over at Tech, Leach never won a division title with the Red Raiders, let alone a Big 12 championship. But he came close a couple times, and that was without having advantages like Pickens' money and OSU's magnificent facilities to work with.
If OSU slips to 6-6 or 5-7 in 2010, Kirk Bohls' "semi-outrageous" July prediction might look dead, solid perfect in December.