For the first time ever, Oklahoma State’s football team has been picked as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12.
And why not? The Cowboys return 45 lettermen, including every offensive starter but one, as well as veterans at linebacker and secondary.
Oh, and their head coach.
That was in doubt at times during the offseason, when Mike Gundy flirted with Arkansas, Tennessee and I think a spot in Obama’s Cabinet.
But he stayed in Stillwater.
And probably will. Forever.
Gundy made it clear Monday during Big 12 media days that he isn’t looking to leave. He said this after he was, well, perhaps looking to leave.
“I’m very happy in Stillwater,” Gundy said. “To a certain extent, I wish that my name wouldn’t have come up, or I wish that it wouldn’t have been as much smoke or fire. At times, I’m to blame for that. But I’m very happy, always been very happy in Stillwater.”
OK, reading between the lines, I’m guessing he’s happy.
I’m also guessing he’ll stay that way or else. Flirt too much, and OSU will open the door for him. He’s a very good coach, evaluator and recruiter in a state that usually has a dozen elite BCS school-caliber prospects and 30 or so overall. Josh Stewart, OSU’s prize receiver, was once a Texas A&M defensive back commitment. Orie Lemon, the Cowboys’ former All-Big 12 linebacker, played quarterback in high school.
But he clearly overplayed his hand. OSU would have no problem filling his job with an attractive candidate because Gundy made it so.
Not that Gundy couldn’t find another job — and maybe even a better job. His name circulated through back channels for the Texas A&M opening after Mike Sherman’s firing, and he was once mentioned for the Miami post as well. His name has also been thrown out as a prospective candidate for Mack Brown’s seat if it ever gets too hot for the Longhorns incumbent. Gundy has finally dented Texas’ dominance of OSU, with two wins in the past three years, but has yet to break out of OU’s handcuffs.
Gundy’s interest in the Tennessee and Arkansas vacancies seemed to have a lot more meat on the bone, although he told me he didn’t want to clarify whether either job was offered. But Volunteers school officials were in Gundy’s home, to give you a gauge on their involvement.
There are three things we all know about the OSU coach: Gundy, he of the crew cut on steroids, leads the league in hair gel. He’s a man, and in three weeks, a 45-year-old one. And he knows offense.
We also knows he’s got a pretty good deal going.
The idea that Gundy would want to leap from the Big 12 frying pan into the SEC fire for jobs that don’t seem as plum as the one he holds and carry a lot more pressure and media responsibility makes one wonder about the level of his happiness and control over items like scheduling. Maybe he longs for a bigger fishbowl.
Coaching rumors are part of the landscape. Coaches can easily dispel the rumors by denying them, but that’s never good for leverage. Coaches often want bigger contracts or greener pastures or just more love where they already are.
Gundy isn’t hurting for money or contract years. His deal, extended after the Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford to cap the 2011 season, stretches his contract through 2019 and will pay him $3.2 million by the end of the agreement.
“I do regret the backlash you get from people,” Gundy said. “There are not many secrets out there.”
Some damage was done. His already strained relationship with his athletic director — the smart, blunt but not always consistent Mike Holder — became more so, and his dalliances with other schools did little to endear him to Boone Pickens, the godfather of donors.
What’s bizarre is few coaches are a better fit at their school than Gundy. It’s his alma mater. He’s spent 22 years on the campus. He understands its advantages and disadvantages as few others could. He could have no better benefactor than Pickens, who has been to Oklahoma State what Phil Knight has been to Oregon. He has built the Cowboys program into one that won the league two years ago, won a BCS bowl game and now stands as the conference’s preseason favorite.
If there ever seemed to be a match made in college football heaven, it’s the marriage between Gundy and Oklahoma State.
It was in Stillwater where he became the school’s record-setting quarterback, starting for four years and leading the Cowboys to a 20-4 record and a pair of bowl wins. He had a couple of assistant coaching stints at Baylor and Maryland before returning to his alma mater as Les Miles’ offensive coordinator and then getting promoted in 2005 to the top spot when Miles left to take over LSU.
In Stillwater, he’s fashioned a program with a prolific offense that turns coordinators into head coaches with regularity. There’s absolutely no reason in this era of up-tempo offenses and total parity outside the SEC that Oklahoma State can’t win a national championship or be a destination spot.
It should be for Gundy.
His program has arrived, and there’s no reason to leave.
COWBOYS UNDER GUNDY
A look at Oklahoma State’s football fortunes under Mike Gundy:
2012;8-5;5-4;W, Heart of Texas; —
2009;9-4;6-2;L, Cotton; —
2007;7-6;4-4;W, Insight; —
2006;7-6;3-5;W, Independence; —
2005;4-7;1-7;No bowl; —
Total;67-35;38-28;5-3 in bowls
* Final Associated Press ranking