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10 Thoughts on Mike Gundy, Chuba Hubbard and Crazy Week for OSU

Ok fine, 11.



I was sitting here staring at 22 different notes I have about this week, trying to figure out how I was going to write all of them before Friday night. There’s no chance that will happen, so I decided to try and shoehorn them into 10 thoughts on what in the world has happened the last week with Oklahoma State football.

Let’s go.

1. We Might Not Deserve Chuba

I got a call last fall about something we had written that we had gotten incorrect. It was about Chuba. We whiffed on it, and I felt bad. But one of my takeaways from that conversation was how much respect he commands within the organization. How he, as Mike Gundy has noted before, does everything right. This has come even more into focus this week with the way he’s carried himself and been an agent of change at OSU. The on-field numbers are staggering — and I think sometimes we might forget them? — but the off-the-field stuff, even before all of this, has been just as impressive.

Chuba announced one week ago today that he’s starting a nonprofit organization — who starts a nonprofit organization in college? — that involves improved education, life skills and leadership development.

When he speaks, people listen. When he leads, people follow. You might not agree with the way he’s gone about everything, but it’s difficult to watch him this week, consider the position he’s in as a student-athlete and not commend him for standing up — even at great cost to himself — for what he believes is right.

That, to me anyway, is far more impressive than putting three hundy on Kansas State or trying to single-handedly beat Texas A&M in a bowl game. Respect.

2. Not About a Shirt

“Over a shirt?!”

That’s the blowback, right? If you think this is about a shirt then you should read this. I wrote about how this is a story about power and distance, not three letters on a shirt. That shirt was the catalyst for everything, but the actual story here is about a group of young, Black athletes looking at an older white man who makes more than $5 million a year yet is seemingly disconnected from them, asking, “Can we trust you?” “Are you for us?”

The shirt is the field of battle upon which this plays out, but this is not a story about a shirt as much as it is a story about trust and power.

3. Not Really About Change Either

One of the rebuttals I’ve heard from folks who are not pleased with how all of this has gone is that Chuba doesn’t even know what kind of change he wants at OSU. First of all, that rings hollow. Read between the lines of both Doug Gottlieb’s not-great tweet and Chuba’s appearance on First Take, and it’s easy to see that the change OSU players want is the freedom to express their Blackness in a safe space.

That might sound like a small or inconsequential thing to you, but within the context of the larger conversation going on nationally right now, it’s neither small nor inconsequential. It’s important and shouldn’t have to be fought for.

Here’s another reality: I’m not even sure any of this is really about that change either as much as it is about holding somebody accountable to their words and actions who is almost never held accountable.

That’s the part where I look at Chuba and think, “Does he know he’s one of the 10 people ever who could have done this, and he actually freaking did it?!” That’s the part that fires me up and is so impressive because — for the 1,000th time — unfettered power without anyone to point out the consequences of your words and actions is a one-way path to nowhere good. And it took an unpaid 21-year-old to get it done!

4. Gundy ESPN Video All I’ve Ever Wanted

Can we say something positive right now about Gundy, too? Is that OK? I thought his “dumbass” video on ESPN was actually really good. The way he talked about humility and the way he talked about his players, that’s really all I’ve ever wanted.

“The way the players feel about me, and I upset them and broke their heart, that bothered me more than losing games,” Gundy said. “That’s the truth, but that’s why now, as humans, when we make mistakes, the only thing we can do is admit we’re wrong, own up to it, be humble, accept critical people, criticism, make it better and move forward.”

That’s really, really good, and the actual video of it is even better.

Humility: ✅
Listening: ✅
Contrition: ✅

That was meaningful. I hope it continues.

5. Shut up and Run?

Man, there have been some OSU folks telling on themselves this week. Not all but a disheartening amount. Athletes — Black, white, whatever — don’t exist so you can feel good about yourself at work on Mondays. If you disagree with them, fine — you don’t have to say anything at all, but I’ve seen some “shut up and play” language that has been eye-opening. That, maybe more than anything, has been the most defeating thing for former (and certainly current) players to hear.

6. Player Empowerment Era

The first time I’ve ever accidentally and involuntarily cursed into our Slack chat was when that Chuba tweet dropped. It was an insane moment that everyone instantly knew would transform everything about Oklahoma State from that point forward.

Whether or not you are a fan of how the player empowerment era has transformed the NBA, we’re seeing (and will see) the same thing now in college football and basketball. Ultimately that will lead to players making money because that’s the direction stuff like this is always pointed, which again is not unjustified given how flush college football is (was?) with cash.

The summer of 2020 — when you combine the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of athletic department revenue with the power players are realizing they have — will be looked back upon as the tipping point for the end of the NCAA as we know it. We won’t get there right away, but eventually we will and this year will undoubtedly have accelerated the process.

7. Shorter Coaching Contracts

We have also hit peak length of contract for college football coaches. Head coaches will never receive the type of extensions (or possibly money) that they have received over the last 10 years ever again. The reason here is two-fold. First, because of player empowerment — because the tides have turned a little bit — no athletic department will risk signing anyone to a 10-year (or whatever) deal. Situations like Gundy’s, in which you probably (?) don’t have cause to fire him but it’s also a difficult position to keep him, will keep smart athletic directors and schools from giving lifetime contracts (which is essentially what Gundy has).

Whether you believe this is a good or bad thing probably depends on whether you believe Gundy or Chuba is more important to the success of Oklahoma State. That is, are players or coaches more valuable to a school? Are CEOs or salespeople more important to a company? It’s a difficult question to answer in any arena, much more so in an arena like amateur athletics where most of the talent doesn’t make anything at all.

8. Future With Gundy and Chuba

This is where I’ll push back on Chuba a little bit. Will there be an ever-expanding list of demands for Gundy in the future? This seems doubtful. Is their relationship salvageable? This also seems a little doubtful. Can you co-exist anyway? I think you probably can.

Chuba’s language on First Take on Thursday was strong, and the accountability it pushes is a great thing (plus, I think the shift in power more toward reality is fascinating). But that can also swing too far the other way to the point that the entire organization becomes dysfunctional. Based on what we know about Chuba as well as OSU as a whole, I’m dubious that it’s going to go badly, but I think it’s at least fair to ask the question.

9. Social Media Era

It’s insane. I feel unprepared, and this is a lot of my job. It’s good, too, because it further empowers players to make their voices heard. Go listen to Sam Mayes talk about how Gundy told him to get his “Black ass” back in the huddle when he was a player. He said he felt like he had nowhere to go, nobody who would listen to him. Is he supposed to bring that up to the Tulsa World involuntarily after that game?

The accountability that comes when you know your players are 30 seconds away from rocking your entire world is a good (if slightly dangerous!) thing. Again, this will lead to shorter contracts — likely with less money — but I can’t help but believe that more transparency is a good thing in a sport that has, for most of its history, not had much of it at all.

10. A Rock and a Rock

Where do you go from here? If you keep Gundy, you’re doing damage control until the end of time (or when his contract runs out). What actually happened and that there’s nuance to it and reconciliation (it seems?) almost doesn’t matter as it relates to future recruiting or a draw to your university. All that matters is that a young, powerful, successful Black student-athlete — who happens to be one of the best football players ever at OSU — sent the loudest tweet in school history. It’s unfortunate for the future that that’s all that matters, but it’s literally the only thing.

So you either have to keep recovering from that over and over again or you have to find $17 million (Gundy’s buyout number) in the middle of a pandemic. Can OSU fire Gundy with cause, in which he would walk away with only $2 million? I suppose, and if you’re banking on that, here’s the clause you’re looking for.

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 12.43.06 PM

I don’t think that really holds up, and even if it mostly does, you’re still probably going to pay a lot more than $2 million to settle the whole thing.

All of that leads to …

11. Does Gundy Keep His Job?

I say yes. I haven’t wavered from this. I did talk to someone on Friday who’s closer to all of it than I am, and he disagreed with me. I just don’t think OSU has enough there to do it. I would not be surprised if they wanted to move on from Gundy — I’ve suspected this might be the case for a while now — but in the middle of a pandemic when your revenue is about to plummet and your case for firing with cause is flimsy at best? I just don’t know that that’s a $17-million risk you’re going to see them take.

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