When an interview is so good that you remember the date, it’s a pretty good interview.
My April 28, 2015 conversation with Mike Gundy was among the better Q&A sessions he and I had in my 2004-11 and 2014-15 time as the Oklahoma State beat writer.
At that time, Gundy’s age was 47 and he was a 10-year veteran of OSU’s head-coaching position.
As his two most recent outcomes had been satisfying – the Tyreek Hill punt-return victory in Bedlam and the Cactus Bowl conquest of Washington — Gundy was in a good mood that spring. A talkative mood.
There was a great variety in topics. In regard to changing the program’s culture, Gundy reported that his most important player had been tight end Brandon Pettigrew in 2005-08. Gundy designated the 2007 Missouri game — when the visiting Cowboys won 28-23 over the third-ranked Tigers — as having been his first big-statement victory as the OSU coach.
Gundy said his “smartest coaching move” was the 2010 hiring of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
Among additional revelations on 4/28/15 was that Gundy felt refreshed and planned to coach for 10 more seasons. After that, presumably, he would retire to a life of hunting, fishing and chores on his Stillwater ranch.
Last week, there was another Gundy interview this time, a 44-minute teleconference involving The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel and me. I reminded Gundy of his “10 more seasons” statement on 4/28/15.
As time really does fly, four seasons have come and gone since that day.
If Gundy were still committed to that 10-year timeline, there would be six more seasons before someone else would coach the Cowboys. After the 2024 season, OSU could get started on a Gundy statue and finalizing the decision to put his name on the field: Mike Gundy Field at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Who might that next coach be? We’ll revisit that in a few paragraphs.
During the 2019 season, Gundy will be 52. Last Friday, he indicated that he probably will coach until he turns 60 during the summer of 2027.
If he walks at 60, the 2026 season would be his 22nd and final season as the Oklahoma State head coach. He would have been the OSU head coach twice as long as any predecessor. Pat Jones (1984-1994) and Jim Lookabaugh (1939-49) each coached in Stillwater for 11 seasons.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my health,” Gundy said. “I feel good. . . . Whenever it gets to the point where I say, ‘I think somebody can do this better than I can,’ and it’s (beneficial) for the university . . . then I want to leave it much, much better than when I took it over.
“And I would say 60 would be a good number now, where I’m sitting. Just based on my excitement level. ... My brain’s turning and I am excited. I’m energized by a seven-win season, energized by new coaches, new (offensive) coordinator (and) different things.”
Gundy isn’t suggesting that he was happily energized by OSU’s 7-6 finish last season. Instead, he’s motivated to make it better. After three consecutive 10-win seasons, he was sickened by the penalties and flat performances that led to last year’s setbacks against Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU.
During an April interview with the Tulsa World, Gundy blamed himself for most of OSU’s 2018 issues: “You could say that 20% of it was on (assistant coaches) and then 20% on the players. The other 60% is on me. I didn’t do a very good job of managing the people that I had in the organization.”
OSU’s athletics budget ranks seventh in the Big 12 and about 50th among FBS schools, and yet during this decade the Cowboy football program is 13th nationally in total victories with 85. In 2010-17, there were six seasons of at least 10 wins.
During this decade, OSU has averaged 41 points and 498 yards per game.
Whether it’s redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders or grad-transfer senior Dru Brown, OSU has a new starting quarterback this year. Gundy acknowledges that he’s always nervous when entering a season with a change at QB, but says “I feel really good about” the state of the program.
“We’re really young in the defensive line, we’re limited somewhat and inexperienced at linebacker, (and there will be) a new quarterback,” Gundy said, “but (at) the other positions, we’re in really good shape.
“So, it’s always interesting in Stillwater. We know that. We’re one or two players, or three players, away from sometimes an 11-win season (or) a six-win season. But that makes it fun for us.”
A hypothetical: What if Gundy were to retire sooner than expected? Say, three years from now? If that were the case, two coaches seem positioned to receive calls from the university.
One is 53-year-old Todd Monken, the former two-time Cowboy assistant who coordinated the 2011 and 2012 offenses, had a nine-win season as the Southern Miss head man and now is Baker Mayfield’s offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.
The other is 32-year-old Zac Robinson, who was Gundy’s quarterback in 2007-09 and became OSU’s career leader in total offense. After having become a renowned QB instructor in the Dallas area, Robinson this year was hired by the Los Angeles Rams as an assistant quarterbacks coach.
If Robinson performs well with the Rams, he could be fast-tracked to more prominent employment in the NFL. Whether it’s sooner or later, his track might lead back to Stillwater.
If Gundy sticks to a retirement-at-60 strategy, Monken might be aged beyond consideration. Not Robinson. By 2027, he would be a coaching veteran and in his early 40s.
Gundy says a transition will be later than sooner. With him as the head coach, there have been 13 consecutive winning seasons. Before him, there were never more than six in a row.
OSU has with Gundy what Penn State had with Joe Paterno, what Florida State had with Bobby Bowden and what Virginia Tech had with Frank Beamer: the most successful coach in program history, married to his school for a lifetime.
When the Cowboys play at Iowa State on Oct. 26, Gundy will be involved in his 350th Oklahoma State football game. It will be his 188th game as the head coach. As the Cowboy QB and an OSU assistant, he totaled 162 games.
Examine the list of football coaches who had a 350-game relationship with one school. It’s a really short list, and now Gundy indicates he’ll coach at OSU for two seasons beyond what he predicted in 2015.
Eleven weeks before the Cowboys open at Oregon State, Oklahoma State already has recorded its first victory of the year.
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