STILLWATER — As the Tulsa World’s Oklahoma State football beat writer in 2004-11 and 2014-15, I have during my career interviewed Mike Gundy on more occasions than any other figure.
During the past couple of years, however, there were fewer interviews because there were fewer opportunities.
The primary reason for an April 3 drive to Stillwater was to ask Gundy about his refusal to more frequently make himself available for media sessions.
Last year, there was a 92-day period during which the Cowboys football coach refused all interview requests. This year, there was a 70-day run of silence.
While other Big 12 coaches were accessible, Gundy was not. Why? He’s actually pretty good in media settings and seems to enjoy it.
The April 3 exchange:
Mike, why aren’t you more often available for a basic Q&A?
“I do it all the time,” Gundy replied.
For months at a time, you say no to all reasonable requests.
“In the offseason, there’s nothing to talk about,” he said. “What is there to talk about?”
Football is every day. Football never goes away. When you do media, it’s a form of marketing your program.
At that point, Gundy changed the subject, mentioning the Texas Tech basketball team’s surge to the Final Four. And then I changed the subject, mentioning that in 2018, the Cowboys football program seemed to have lost its mojo.
For years, the Cowboys beat the opponents they were supposed to beat. Last season, they didn’t. Oklahoma State had better personnel than Kansas State, Baylor and TCU. The Cowboys were favored by eight points at K-State, by six at Baylor and by 5½ at TCU, but OSU was weirdly lethargic and winless in those games.
If OSU had beaten the Wildcats, Bears and Horned Frogs — during the season after Mason Rudolph and James Washington graduated to the NFL — there would have been a fourth consecutive 10-win outcome. Instead, OSU needed an interesting bowl win over Missouri to get a 7-6 finish.
Back to the April 3 conversation: After the reference to 2018, Gundy reverted to the Gundy I remembered from 2005-11. The result was my most interesting Gundy interview in four years. He buried the needle on candor.
“The first reason that we won only seven games was me,” Gundy said. “I went back and self-scouted myself, and I was to blame for the majority of it. Because of the way that I handled the team. The majority of it was me. Most of the years, I’ve done a pretty good job. Last year, from Jan. 1 until our bowl game (on Dec. 31), I didn’t do a good job.
“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 — the players and the coaches. And that’s the result you get.”
So, 2019 is a big year not only for OSU, but for Mike Gundy?
“No doubt,” he replied.
What would Gundy have done differently?
“It would take forever to tell you,” he said. “I got out of my box on handling things as I should. I just thought everything would work itself out, and I wasn’t as disciplined (in making corrections).
“That’s why we won seven games. If I had done my job the way I should have, we would have won 10.”
Gundy indicated that he delivered the self-blame message to his players.
A source close to the program says Gundy now seems “more engaged,” more energetic and more involved in a hands-on basis.
During his April 3 and April 10 media sessions, Gundy was in an extraordinarily good mood. His history is clearly defined: When there is a feeling of security at the quarterback position, and confidence about his offense overall, Gundy is relaxed and cool.
When there is uncertainty or a negative trend at QB, he’s not so chilled or accommodating.
The relaxed/cool Gundy of the past two weeks suggests that he feels good about the development of redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders. Gundy continues to give Sanders and Dru Brown a fairly equal number of snaps with the first-unit offense, but there are reports that Sanders is having a nice spring.
After next Saturday’s open-to-the-public exercise at Boone Pickens Stadium, it would not surprise me if Gundy were to announce a quarterback decision. It would surprise me if Sanders isn’t the guy. During the 2017 season, he was the most decorated player in Texas high school football.
The quarterback situation aside, Oklahoma State fans should feel encouraged by Gundy’s apparent resolve to restore the Cowboys’ mojo and have 2019 look better than 2018.
What Gundy did on April 3 was a big-time example of accountability.