Do we get some sort of prize for this?
Emanating from Oklahoma are this week’s most infamous sports story (OSU’s Mike Gundy situation) and this week’s most infamous news event (the Trump rally).
Gundy and his T-shirt resulted in opinionated responses from Stephen A. Smith, Paul Finebaum and media members all over the country, but the reaction that really grabbed me was posted on Facebook by former Oklahoma State tailback Vernand Morency.
Always a go-to guy during interview sessions, Morency was thoughtful and quotable. As a Cowboy junior in 2004, he rushed for 1,474 yards. At the Rose Bowl, he gashed UCLA for 261 yards.
After Morency’s three-season NFL career, he fairly frequently returned to Stillwater for football games and alumni functions. He solicited advice from T. Boone Pickens and they wound up establishing a friendship.
When anyone would be critical of Gundy, Morency always expressed support for his former offensive coordinator. Morency would emphasize the value of having head-coaching continuity and of having an OSU man at the top of the OSU program.
Morency says his support was shaken on Monday, when he saw the photo of Gundy wearing a One America News T-shirt — promoting, in effect, a network with a reportedly lousy reputation within the black community.
Morency’s Facebook post: “This is the Death Penalty for Oklahoma State & recruiting! I guarantee we’ll have the most kids in the transfer portal next year. Over the last eight years no one has fought harder for Mike Gundy behind closed doors than I have, when the powers that be wanted him out.
“This is absolutely insensitive and absurd! No black or brown parent, in their right mind, would allow him to sit on their couch and try to recruit their child to Stillwater. He clearly has no clue about the culture or just doesn’t care.”
After Morency’s Facebook statement, Gundy referred to himself as a “dumb ass” for having chosen that particular shirt for a day of fishing at Lake Texoma. Morency heard the apologies and the promises to foster a healthier culture, but when contacted Thursday night he stood by his prediction that the Gundy controversy could have a “catastrophic” impact on recruiting.
“You no longer can say we have an advantage because of a beautiful stadium. Everyone has a beautiful stadium now,” Morency said. “We no longer have an advantage with uniforms. Everybody has nice uniforms now.
“Here’s what will happen: (Opposing coaches) will send the T-shirt picture or some of these videos to recruits and say, ‘Do you really want to play for this guy?’ Coaches will try to poach OSU’s recruits.”
A multi-sport superstar at Northwestern High School in Miami, Florida, Morency signed to play baseball with the Colorado Rockies. His roommate in the minors was Matt Holliday of Stillwater.
In 2002, after Morency decided he wanted a return to football, he was steered in the direction of Oklahoma State (where at that time Matt’s father, Tom Holliday, was the Cowboy baseball coach).
The parents of Haitian immigrants, Morency resides now in Austin, Texas, and has a career “in the tech business.” It’s unimaginable that he now is 40. In my mind, he’ll always be 23.
“When I wear my Mike Holder hat, I think of the job he has to do (as OSU’s athletic director),” Morency said. “His job is to raise money for the (the entire athletic department). Not just for football. Mike Gundy’s action undermines everything Mike Holder is trying to do for Oklahoma State.
“Basically, Mike Gundy is the CEO at Oklahoma State. Imagine what would happen if Elon Musk did something like Mike Gundy did with that shirt. Elon Musk would hurt the Tesla shareholders. Mike Gundy hurt the university and the alumni. I still root for Oklahoma State, but I’m concerned.”
Obviously, Morency is not optimistic that Gundy can fully recover from this self-inflicted setback. This story has several layers, but Morency is correct when he attaches his concern to recruiting.
As Pat Jones always says, “Recruiting to Stillwater is tough even on a good day.” These are not good days for OSU football.
While Morency insists that “this situation will not go away,” that’s exactly the challenge for Gundy: to, over time, make it go away.
The image-restoration project begins now. Gundy has to do and say the right things in a relentlessly consistent manner, and then hope like crazy that time can heal this wound.