Why aren't Longhorn fans taking Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy more seriously as a future head coaching candidate? Including me. But I'm warming to it.
This candidacy was brought to me. By a mother. Of children.
Forget for a moment that Gundy looks like a West Texas golf pro who drives a muscle car, styles his hair with Castor Oil and White Rain, wears visors during night games, practices imaginary putts during any conversation with an authority figure, and looks like every 15 hour a week real estate agent who kills it at Friday's Happy Hour who has ever lived.
Forget for a moment that I spent a significant amount of time portraying him as T Boone's mewling sidekick.
Forget his "I'm a Man! I'm 40!" press conference which was the least Texas head coach behavior imaginable when plotting behaviors on the Texas Head Coach Press Conference behaviors Acceptable Outburst Continuum. So what? Our press conferences stink. Which demands the question - why has Texas football (Abe Lemons doesn't count) never had a single amusing press conference outburst in its history? Here's a chance to address that.
Forget optics. Forget perception. Let's just look at the record and attributes.
Gundy's overall record at Oklahoma State is outstanding. 77-36 over nine years (OSU started 12-15 under Gundy), but 41-9 over his last four years (including two Big 12 titles - you know, the same number as the guy who has coached SIXTEEN YEARS at TEXAS). Though Oklahoma State has some financial and facility resources courtesy of T Boone Pickens, they're still the #2 school in a state with a paucity of FBS recruits and is a clear step below neighboring OU, Texas, A&M, and LSU in the program potential power rankings. And the recruiting rankings bear that out. This is a program clearly overachieving. If you don't believe me, read this excellent piece.
Even if you don't quite follow it, take my word for it that this chart is really, really freaking good:
But how does doing well at Oklahoma State transfer specifically to Texas? Some places are built to be a nice little niche and those attributes don't play well in Austin. So let's forget about "But What Offense Does He Run?" and "Is He Nice To Alums?" and "Did His Team Ever Lose Any Game They Shouldn't Have?" and focus on the real big picture. What translates well to Austin?
Does he hire, evaluate, and use assistants well?
Yes. Gundy is current on the Xs and Os part of football and knows what good looks like. Gundy also has a good record of getting what he needs out of his assistants. And he's not very sentimental in his dealings with them. Good performers prosper to internal promotions (his current DC; OL coach Joe Wickline has lifetime tenure and a big salary) or graduate to head coaching jobs (his last two Offensive Coordinators) and subpar performers find themselves looking for work. He's never been assistant dependent - a figurehead creation of the men who served under him. But as a former coordinator himself, he knows what he wants to do on offense and, most importantly, doesn't ignore the other side of the ball. In fact, he has proven diligent in raising the quality of a once weak Oklahoma State defense. Gundy's yearly ritual seems to be replacing nearly his entire staff - whether because other programs wanted them as a head coach (a novel concept to Longhorn fans), because he exerts an out-or-up mentality, or because he decided he'd wrung every bit of production he could out of some old stalwart (proactively fires tenured DC Bill Young despite corresponding Win-Loss success, and OSU defense improves considerably - the most un-Mack Brown action possible). This is actual coaching and rigorous personnel management. And it translates very nicely to a place like Texas.
Even at the player level - specifically QB - Gundy has consistently proven willing to upgrade the position, even at the expense of hurt feelings, the potential for criticism and second-guessing, or the creation of the dreaded QB controversy. Gundy doesn't seem to really give a damn. He's looking for the best guy. No coronations.
Texas generates complacency. Loads of complacency. If your head coach doesn't actively create tension in his staff and throughout the program, his time will end badly here. It's one of my most important coaching characteristics for this job.
Global perspective? Self-aware? Coaches to a standard?
He fired himself from offensive coordinator duties in 2008. That's the final step in the coordinator to coordinator-coach to true head coach evolution. He fired a defensive coordinator (Bill Young) who had improved his defense but couldn't take it past the hurdle from respectable to great, despite a coinciding run of Win-Loss success. Despite a number of different offensive coordinators (four), the Cowboys have consistently fielded good to excellent offenses and the overall quality of their product has improved considerably. His ability to quickly meld and coach up his own staff may be his most impressive attribute. It's safe to say that Gundy has a pretty solid understanding of what good looks like on both sides of the ball. Most former coordinators have a clear bias one way or the other, and even seem to resent the other side of the ball. Not Gundy. He won this year's Big 12 off of defense and special teams. He looks like a coach trying to maximize across the board.
Recruiting & Development.
The development piece? Yes. Recruiting? A realistic appraisal of the Cowboys means that they often get to pick through the leftovers of other programs on the recruiting trail and/or sweat some academic/citizenship question marks (one of the reasons that they over-sign). That they can still field conference winning teams from this selection speaks well to Gundy's organization. The core of this year's Big 12 champion came from three classes nationally ranked as follows on Rivals:
2012 - #32
2011 - #28
2010 - #31
Not bad. I can't speak to Gundy's prowess as a recruiter in terms of inking 5 stars or picking from a pot of elites. But his evaluation skills seem to check out. And wearing the Burnt Orange gets you into a lot more living rooms than the Bright Orange. It would be difficult to argue that he's a bad recruiter. I don't know if he's elite.
He's at the sweet spot between experience and youth. At 46 years old and with nine years as a head coach, Gundy is time-tested enough for a place like Texas, has weathered his own major personal developmental challenges on someone else's dime, and has gotten a lot more comfortable in his own skin. Nick Saban is 62 years old - a three to five year solution at best. Yikes. And God help us, we'll probably be dumb enough to accept the assistant he tries to foist off on us when he leaves. James Franklin of Vanderbilt is a cypher. You can project whatever you want onto him. He's your blank slate. I find blank slates as terrifying as they are exciting. There's a sweet spot somewhere in there, and it's occupied by men like Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy.
Would he come?
Yeah. Unless he has very different ambitions than what I assume. Gundy almost went to Tennessee before Oklahoma State woke up. Tennessee is the 6th or 7th best job in the SEC. Texas is Texas. Gundy coaches in the Big 12. He recruits Texas. He understands the power that the throne in Austin wields when staffed competently.
What about the OSU academic/drug/sex scandals exposed in Sports Illustrated?
You mean the Thayer Evans pro-OU hit piece? Haven't we been here before with Jamarkus McFiction? The only scandal is what has happened to SI's journalism ethos. And a lot of the piece focuses on Les Miles' tenure there, though Gundy is certainly not untarnished. Does Oklahoma State take more than a few players on the academic and citizenship margins? Of course. They have to - look at their recruiting situation. And why not capitalize on their malleable academics? Oh, it's all so unseemly! Why can't an Ag School in rural Oklahoma field a team of Rhodes Scholars with a higher SAT average than the service academies?
They also had players smoke marijuana! And have sex with hostesses! DEAR GOD.
Would Gundy target academic questionables at Texas? Probably not any more than our current crop. Because he wouldn't have to. Because it's Texas. He gets to eat first if he'll bother to roll out of bed and make it to the table.
Is Oklahoma State a dirty program?
On the SEC Richter scale, it's not even a tremor.
But, dude, this is GUNDY!
I know. I can't believe it either. But the guy has done a terrific job. And he has really grown as a coach.
Yeah. But if he's not on the Top 5 of our candidate list, it's probably not a very good list.
Hee Hee. Gundy. Hee hee.
Stop it. Who deserves the chuckle? The guy kicking our fat complacent ass in Austin while winning the league at a Top 30-35 Program while we dismiss him because he doesn't fit our Platonic ideal of what a Texas coach looks and acts like? Really? Mack Brown sure looks like a coach. How's that working out for you? You still laughing?
Hmm. OK. I get it. I've got some thinking to do.
We all do.