STILLWATER — In January, a football coach from Stillwater, Oklahoma, met for a job interview with a 34-year-old prospect from Princeton, New Jersey.
It happened in Kansas City as Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy conversed with Princeton assistant Sean Gleeson about the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator position.
Gleeson had been in Phoenix, discussing with new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury a possible job with the Arizona staff. Gundy was recruiting in Kansas City when he contacted Gleeson.
Gundy made arrangements for Gleeson to fly from Arizona to KC, and it was there they met, talked and shook hands on a life-changing move for the former Ivy League play-caller.
Gundy’s memory of the deal-closing moment: “When I realized that I wanted him to take the job — when I started to drive the conversation that way — he said, ‘There is no decision. If you offer the job, I’ll take it.’ ”
In regard to his professional status and bank account, Gleeson won the lottery that day.
Oklahoma State has not announced the details of Gleeson’s contract, but it is believed his first-year pay amounts to $550,000. He by far is the highest-paid, first-year offensive coordinator in program history. And, at 6-foot-5, the tallest.
“I’m a former quarterback,” Gleeson said. “I’m a quarterback (coach) on offense. There’s no better place in the country to be an offensive coach than here. That’s what excited me.”
Previous Gundy offensive coordinators were Larry Fedora, who in 2005 commanded a first-year salary of $200,000; Dana Holgorsen, hired in 2010 at $360,000; Todd Monken, hired in 2011 at $400,000; and Mike Yurcich, hired in 2013 at $400,000.
For Fedora, Holgorsen and Monken, employment at OSU was a gateway to head-coaching gigs. For Yurcich, it led to a job at Ohio State.
“As it turns out,” Gundy said, “I’ve been pretty good at hiring (offensive coordinators) here.”
Before Gleeson gives any consideration to how his career ultimately might look, his current circumstances are excellent.
It’s not known what he was paid at Princeton, but with the average FCS head coach paid less than $300,000, it’s safe to presume Gleeson commanded much less while coordinating the Princeton Tigers’ offense.
The Kansas City meeting supercharged Gleeson’s profile in every sense.
After only four seasons of play-calling — two at Division II Fairleigh Dickinson and two at Princeton — he gets control of an OSU offensive culture that during this decade has been among the best in major-college football.
“I’m very humbled by the opportunity to work here, knowing the history of the people who’ve sat in that seat,” Gleeson said. “I haven’t even called a single play in a game yet. If I work my tail off, like I have in every previous job, then usually good things have happened.
“The reason I want good things to happen is for kids like (senior guard) Marcus Keyes — guys who’ve been here a while and deserve a great season. That’s what motivates me. Would I like to put my name in the company of (previous OSU coordinators)? Sure. But for now, I’ll keep my head down and make sure I do a good job.”
On Saturday, during OSU’s end-of-spring-practice event scheduled for 1 p.m. at Boone Pickens Stadium, Gleeson will call plays during the 84th afternoon of his partnership with Gundy.
Following the Cowboys’ Wednesday practice, Gleeson was made available for interviews. It was my first chance to talk with him. As first impressions go, this one was an A-plus. Gleeson is eloquent and clever.
He has two sons — 2-year-old Eamon and 3-month-old Patrick — and a wife, Lauren, who by profession is a Spanish teacher and by hobby is a real estate enthusiast.
As Gleeson poured the foundation of relationships with quarterbacks Spencer Sanders and Dru Brown, Lauren presided over the sale of their New Jersey home and the purchase of a place in Stillwater.
“I feel extremely welcomed by the people of this community and more comfortable with the personalities in this building,” Gleeson said. “Hopefully, I can get the most out of everybody.
“That’s really what my job is — to get the most out of all our guys. To make sure that everybody reaches their potential.”
When someone scores a lucrative new situation, this is a common response: To whom much is given, much is expected.
As recently as eight years ago, Gleeson coached a bowling team at Delbarton School, a dot-on-the-map institution in New Jersey. Now, he’s a $550,000 assistant at Oklahoma State, shouldering the responsibility of sustaining the Cowboy offense at levels of at least 38 points and 500 yards per game.