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For Better or Worse, Gundy is Honest With His Players



Oklahoma State is going to be good at college football this season. I know that. You know that. My grandparents know that. My kids know that. Everybody knows that, including Mike Gundy. But how do you present that to a bunch of 19- and 22-year-old kids?

Gundy said last week his mentality on this has changed dramatically.

“The very best thing we can do is be honest with them,” said Gundy last week. “Years ago in our coach talk you would come in and you’d get them in a room and you’d say, ‘Listen, you’re not that good. Everybody’s telling you you’re good. You’re not that good. You’re average.’

“So if I were them I’d walk out thinking, ‘We’re pretty good. Why’s he telling us that?’ They are pretty good. How good? I don’t know, but they’re pretty good. It’s up to them. They’ve handled that fairly well and the one message I’ve given them, right or wrong, is that there will be a lot going on when you’re ranked really high preseason.

“I told them all the stuff that’s gone on with me and the marketing and all that, that stuff only works when you’re winning. If my hair is long, and we’re losing it’s not near as fun. People are gonna say, ‘Cut your hair’ all the time. It’s all based on their success, and I think they understand that side of the game.’”

If there’s one person in college football who understands the value of something being true, it’s the man who is coming up on the 10-year anniversary of his epic YouTube hit.

And this is a fascinating perspective to take. If you talk your players up like this, you run the risk of puffing them up and making them overconfident. However, it can also serve as a gateway to greater things. That is, when I talk to my children like they’re babies, that’s how they act. But if I talk to them like they’re adults, they have a tendency to act more like adults. They might get out over their skis and get too cocky and their position within the family, but that’s a manageable, low-level risk that has less downside than upside.

It’s also a part of culture that has to be built over time. When you’re telling collegiate athletes the truth, over time you inherently start to collect more mature, hard-working individuals. It’s cyclical.

“I think the one interesting part of this team over the past few months is, not that they expected people to say you’re going to be good, but honestly I think they’ve gotten used to that,” added Gundy.

“Where four or five years ago, I can’t remember what it was, maybe four years ago, when we went to the Big 12 media days we were preseason picked to win the conference. Now, people think we’re supposed to have a good team, and there’s a lot of conversation about it and our players don’t really concern themselves with it. I think at some point they kind of gotten used to it, which is good.

“I said this years ago, in order to develop and build tradition in football at a big school, it takes a long time. I said that I hope that whenever I’m done coaching here that we develop Oklahoma State here to where people consider it a traditional football school. I think we’re on our way to doing that. We have a lot of work, but I don’t think the players are so caught up with themselves to think that people said that they’re going to have a good team. My guess is that you should have a good team.”

Straightforward and succinct. When you tell people the truth, you don’t have the clutter of gamesmanship going on within your organization. Are there various ways to motivate individuals? Of course. I respond better to somebody telling me I suck than someone telling me I’m awesome, but on the whole, setting proper expectations seems to be the right methodology.

“I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Gundy. “You know it’s interesting, I was at the (ESPN) car wash, and I was walking behind or in the same room as Coach (Bill) Snyder and somebody said ‘Coach what do you think about the season?’ and he said ‘I don’t know, I’m 78, and they’re 18, I have no idea how it will turn out.’ So I’m close to, I can say I’m 50 and they’re 18, not nearly anything he said, but to a certain point, he’s right. These guys I don’t think they have stars in their eyes about what people think about their team this year.”

This is another example of why it’s so important for Gundy to have room to think about what he’s doing and where his organization is headed in the future.

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