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A couple of Great Reader Questions on Mike Gundy

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I don’t get a ton of emails about Oklahoma State things, but the ones I get are usually pretty good. Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten two exceptional ones. So instead of responding to these folks via email where none of you can see it, I thought it would be fun to do so publicly.

Question No. 1

I was reading everyone’s final takeaways on the year and had this thought. I think Mike Gundy is not who he wants us to believe he is. You’ve alluded to the comp between him and Rickie Fowler. You would know better than anyone else. Both pretty conservative guys who want to be perceived like wild men. It’s just not who they are. I think these two quotes are telling, one of them is what Gundy wants you to believe he is and the other is who he really is:

“There’s nobody in this stadium that’s more competitive than me. You want to go outside and wrestle. You want to play jacks. You want to shoot hoops. You want to play ping pong. I’m going to play until it’s over and somebody pulls me out of there.” That was after Bedlam this year

“What if they said you could tee off from the ladies tees, but score the same? Come on now… They put us on the (back tee boxes), just so you know.” Before the Florida State game in 2014.

Of course Gundy is driven and competitive, you don’t get to where he got without discipline, talent and a competitive drive. I bet the most competitive guy in Boone Pickens Stadium wants to measure himself against the best. I can imagine Saban, Dabo or Urban making that statement. But I’m not sure those two statements can coexist and be intellectually honest.

I think Gundy is Rickie, both talented guys who love their job but have lots of interest outside of their careers. I would like to see Gundy be less Rickie and more Patrick Reed.

Do you have any thoughts?

-Ryan F.

I think it’s difficult when you have a contract in place that will eventually have paid you close to $60 million (at least) to stay as motivated as you were when you were a graduate assistant. That’s just human nature.

But it also begs the question of how you define competitive nature. I think the important word Ryan hit on is “interest.” My go-to for these is always Tiger Woods. Tiger’s entire life was built around being as good as he could possibly be at golf. His entire life. Rickie Fowler’s is not. Rory McIlroy’s is not. That doesn’t mean those guys aren’t competitive. It just means they aren’t obsessed.

One of the primary synonyms for “competitive” is “ruthless.” Mike Gundy is not ruthless. He’s just not. I’m not offended by that. And this sort of gets at a type of fandom I’m uncomfortable with. When you demand for the coaches at your school to build their entire lives around recruiting or scheming or whatever, you fail to see them as human beings. It becomes a little bit insane. I can’t help that other school’s coaches are OK living that way, but I would prefer the people I interact with or root for to not be.

So yeah, I don’t think Gundy is wired like Tiger or Nick Saban, and that’s OK. But the Patrick Reed note is intriguing. Reed has a sense of big moments, even though he’s not really an elite golfer. This is something it feels like Gundy has lacked over the course of his career. Maybe it’s preternatural, and he just doesn’t have it. I don’t know. But when’s the last time Gundy made a chess move in a Big Daddy™ game that made you howl with delight? That’s the part I think he can control and be better at without changing the course of his entire life.

Question No. 2

Hope all is well. I know you and Carson discussed this on yesterday’s podcast but I have a follow-up question about Gundy in the coaches room for the National Title Game that maybe you and Carson could discuss if you do a mailbag later this week.

I watched the broadcast not the coaches room, but you mentioned that Gundy was saying at times that Alabama should run it to the middle of the field on 3rd down to setup the kicker when in reality Bama was getting 1st downs. You mentioned yesterday you thought those comments were pretty funny, but on the other hand, does this not kind of prove the point that Gundy is conservative and is it not somewhat concerning thinking that’s most likely what his philosophy would be in a situation like that?

Obviously you have to take most of his commentary with a grain of salt, but when I read that it made me wonder if that’s how he should be thinking or not. Maybe the best thing to do is setup the kicker on 3rd and longs but also it feels like he’s letting the other team’s defense win in that situation.

 

This is absolutely how Gundy thinks. It was almost comical that Gundy, with the chips down, was trying to be more conservative than maybe the most conservative program in the country. And this has been one of my biggest criticisms of him. To beat more talented players and teams, you have to have a bigger risk profile (shout out Daryl Morey) than they do. This is a fundamental tenant of business.

OSU is 3-8 against top 10 teams since it won its last Big 12 title in 2011. Some of these games it was favored. Many it was not. But what this record tells me is that A. It’s really hard to beat top 10 teams and B. If you’re a lesser-talented team like OSU (just look at the crootin rankings), then you must take risks to put up wins. For all the praise I’ve given Gundy over his ability to morph and become what he has needed to become, he seems unwilling to change in this area. And I think it’s cost OSU some wins over the years.

In a lot of ways, these two questions and answers go together. I like Gundy and think he’s a really good program-builder. But he’s left a lot on the table when it comes to pressing buttons with bullets flying late in the conference season. I think (hope?) that’s correctable, but the older and more obstinate he gets, the less convinced I am that it will ever change.