When It Comes To OSU and Recruiting, What are Mike Gundy’s Goals?

[USATSI]

I recently collected data on recruiting rankings going all the way back to 2005, Mike Gundy’s first year in Stillwater. We rolled out a few interesting things I found and think about what OSU’s position in the recruiting world will be going forward. Hope you’ve enjoyed them. This will (probably) be the last piece.

Let’s be clear about something — Mike Gundy is succeeding at Oklahoma State. That is undeniable. I am 100 percent in the Mike Gundy camp when it comes to college football coaching. In fact, I think he’s probably underrated by a majority of Oklahoma State fans. He’s an amazing coach. The Eddie Sutton of OSU football. On the Mount Rushmore of OSU sports.

OSU has been awesome since he took over. I mean awesome.

Better than Notre Dame, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri, Arkansas, UCLA and Miami. Here is a look at OSU’s company since 2005 when Gundy was put in charge of OSU’s program. These are the records of schools since 2005, sorted by winning percentage.

Ludicrous.

So my conflict is not with whether OSU is great or Mike Gundy is an awesome coach. Both of those things are empirically and statistically true. My conflict is this: Can OSU be even better than it has been? Can it recruit better and win more and become a national powerhouse? Can it fill the void Texas has left on a national level?

Can it …. become Clemson?

Maybe the better question is: Does it even want to?

When we discuss the future, we must always talk about the past. What are your goals? Where are you trying to go? What do you want to do? Each program has different goals of course. It would be silly for North Texas to have the same goals as Alabama. So what are OSU’s? Let’s look at three quotes. All of them are from last season.

Quote 1

“So a long time ago, when we started this, my goal was to put a quality team on the field so that people that loved Oklahoma State football knew every Saturday we had a chance to win.”  -Mike Gundy

Quote 2

“Our goal each year is to get our team prepared so that when we step on the field the fans can be proud of the product that’s on the field. We’re going to play hard, we’re going to do it respectfully. It’s extremely difficult to predict wins and losses or to see how the game is going to go — any game. But our goal is to win a conference championship. We have always felt like if we can win the conference championship that would allow us an opportunity to get to the playoff.” -Mike Gundy

Quote 3

“I think the benchmark is to win [the Big 12]. Maybe six, seven or eight years ago, to play was good, but the benchmark has changed. How you are evaluated has changed. The way this team is critiqued has changed. That just means we’ve gotten to this point. A lot of people have done great things to get to this point.” -Glenn Spencer

It is clear from these three quotes that OSU’s goals have shifted over the years. From simply putting a quality product on the field back in 2005 to winning conference championships in 2017.

Spencer and Gundy both said it. There is one more step left in the evolution of a team, though, and that is to get where OU is. Where your goal is to win a national championship and a Big 12 title is just a signpost on that road.

The problem? I’m not sure how you can get to space with the way things currently stand.

We already looked at how recruiting wins national championships. Then we looked at how OSU isn’t necessarily interested in becoming an elite recruiting school. So it seems the program is at a crossroads here. Can you really become Clemson without recruiting like Clemson?

I asked four national writers (both CFB and CFB recruiting) for their take on this. On how OSU can move incrementally to become elite at recruiting (like the teams in the graphic we looked at here). This is what they said.

Travis Haney (247 Sports): I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure that Oklahoma State can consistently move into that category, mostly based on geography. Isolation is such a difficult thing to overcome — largely because it’s that much harder to get recruits on campus for unofficial visits.

None of the hot Texas prospects just happen to be stopping through Stillwater is my guess. That’s not to say a dynamic staff cannot make some headway and land some higher-end targets, but I believe OSU is one of those schools that’s going to have to lean on identification and development – and some JuCos — to balance out that gap.

And I’d say Gundy’s staffs have done a really nice job of that. I’m kicking around doing a story on him as the most underrated coach in the country relative to consistency and resources. So maybe this is just what the program is in terms of recruiting, unless you move it three or four hours south. It isn’t a death sentence, but it’s certainly a hurdle.

Jake Trotter (ESPN): I mean, can you? How many programs have crossed that threshold over the last two decades? Oregon? Texas A&M sort of? The “big boy” programs you reference have won national titles and/or exist in incredibly fertile recruiting grounds like the states of Texas or Florida. It is almost impossible to go from a good recruiting program to an elite one.

Greg Powers (Scout): Rankings classes are valued by determining quality and quantity. It is very interesting that you use the No. 14 nationally as the spot that would be ideal for a program like Oklahoma State to rise (ed. note: I asked how you move from No. 34 to, say, No. 14 in an email to Greg), because the last time it took a full allotment of recruits was in the class of 2014 (28) and it actually finished at No. 14 nationally in the Scout rankings.

Since that time the highest number of recruits it has signed is 22 (2017). Over the past three classes it has signed over 34 percent of its talent from the JuCo ranks, and JuCo prospects are not valued as highly as high school prospects in the team recruiting rankings formulas. We view OSU and TCU as two of the best talent evaluating staffs in the conference and it is that ability to identify and secure that type of solid talent that has made those two programs competitive within the conference.

Woody Womack (Rivals): Make the leap from good to great in recruiting is always tough for programs like Oklahoma State. It takes a combination of consistent on-field success as well as pipeline to elite talent. I think if the Cowboys were to make a few runs to the college football playoff they could parlay it into more consistently ranked classes in recruiting.


There are loads of interesting nuggets, but the one about JuCo players and OSU not fully filling out its classes in a given year is maybe the most intriguing to me. Gundy is, pretty undeniably by these writers, one of the best at evaluating the right kids and building a successful culture with them.

But Oklahoma State still has a long way to go as a program. We would all love to see the Cowboys string together a run of three Big 12 titles in five years or four in nine years. Something like that. OSU is closer than ever to joining a crop of nationally-relevant schools that contend at the very highest level every year. So close. You can almost taste the milk and the honey of that sweet terrain.

OSU has built itself (with Mike Gundy as the chief architect) into a tremendous college football program. One that is worth being proud of and following and enjoying. And don’t misunderstand me here. Things are great right now. These really are the golden years of Oklahoma State football. I’m fine with winning a Big 12 title every five or six years. The yearly product is incredible. I’m not complaining.

But success breeds the desire for more success, and opportunities to break into that circle of prosperity that reboots itself year after year don’t come around that often for schools like Oklahoma State. The opportunity to become OU is right there. And despite what you think about OU, that is a program anybody should want to become (on the field anyway).

I realize that this takes time. That you don’t build Bama overnight (unless your name is Nick and you wear a straw hat to two-a-days). I realize it could take two decades or maybe three. Or maybe it’s impossible. I don’t know. What I do know is that OSU is inches away from breaking through and winning multiple conference titles and playing for national titles like the other schools we’ve talked about.

And yet it still sometimes feels like they’re so far away.

  • tony linville

    So your deduction that OSU’s location isn’t a factor is questioned by one of the respondents.

  • OSU Student

    The best example for this is the 2011 team. They SHOULD have been in the 2011 season (2012) national championship game, but got screwed over. And blew a game at ISU. They didn’t have a bunch of 5-star kids on that team, just played well together.

  • StillOriginal

    It was shocking to see only 18 BXII athletes were invited the NFL draft combine. 4 of which are from oSu.

    Those of you that have been keeping up with Trae Young, the 5 star recruit. I understand it’s a different sport, but the recruiting process and what comes along with these 5 star recruits are similar to football recruits. Don’t get me wrong, he put in the work so he can decide to go where ever he is offered, he deserves that. Read the article with him and his parents discussing the pros and cons for each school, I found it interesting. Someone described Trae Young as “self-absorbed” I’d have to completely agree. He does come off as a “what’s best for him” and not a team first guy. I thought how many of these 5 star football recruits have the same demeanor as a Trae Young? Not saying all 5 star recruits have the same demeanor, but I’m sure there are some. I think Gundy and Co. do a good job recruiting as far as finding guys who are team first guys.

    • Common Sense

      What team would you be “team first” with if you haven’t assessed which “team” best meets your individual needs?

  • Stepdaddy

    First off, I have enjoyed the series. It has been very informative. Recruiting should be revisited annually IMO,

    I definitely believe that OSU can get better recruits. There is no doubt in my mind that if OSU starts winning against OU more than once every twelve years, wins more B12 championships, and schedules better, OSU recruiting will easily rise to the levels of Nebraska, Wisc., TCU, Baylor, etc. Will OSU ever recruit like Ala., Ohio St., Mich, maybe or maybe not.

    The hardest thing for me to swallow is when OSU coaches themselves out of championships like they have multiple times during the past 12 years. On those occasions, it did not have any thing to do with recruiting. If OSU wasn’t getting boot stomped annually by OU, and losing a game or two they shouldn’t to other teams, then I would have more confidence in Gundy. I just don’t think he has what it takes to beat teams like OU. Just like he is comfortable recruiting 3 stars, he seems comfortable losing to OU. Therefore in my mind OSU is stuck.

    All the while Texas, Baylor, TCU are getting their acts together. It is only going to get harder from here on out. Recruiting is definitely an issue but so is coaching. The two are interrelated.

    If he is not going to recruit better and if he is only going to beat OU once a decade then why does he deserve raise and a long-term contract? I am proud of our 10 win seasons, but what does it really mean if it does result in B12 championship or a BCS bowl or playoff game? Does it mean we are almost as good OU? So what. It my mind it just means OSU is bowl eligible and an “also ran” in a failing conference. Big deal!!

    Does Gundy deserve a lot of credit for getting OSU this point? Yes.

    Finally, Gundy is definitely not the Eddie Suttion of OSU football. That is a major insult to Eddie Sutton and it hurt my eyes when I read it. Coach Suttion won multiple conference tiles, conference tournaments and went to the final 4 twice. He didn’t have the best facilities, top recruits and he never whined like Gundy does. Gundy has one B12 championship. Hopefully he will be come the Eddie Sutton of OSU football but he is not there yet.

    • OSUgary

      I 100% back Stepdaddy summary! I might want to marry him too !
      Stepdaddy captured my sentiments as well. I too am so glad the ‘recruiting’ topic has finally been ‘put out there’ for discussion and thank PFB for it because recruiting has been an issue since 2012 and it is the missing link to taking the next step for the program.

      • Stepdaddy

        Thanks. There are a lot of OSU fans like us that love the program, but want to see it take the next step.

        • CaptainObvious

          You think there some fans who don’t want to see it take the next step?

    • CaptainObvious

      “Gundy has one B12 championship.”

      And Eddie has …. 2? Don’t see a major difference here.

  • GOpokes

    Great series. I think what Gundy is doing is fantastic. 3 stars or 5 stars, I am on board forever.

  • Phillycowboy

    I’m going to second step daddy that I have enjoyed these series. I hope they keep coming. I think there is still more conversation to be had and interesting nuggets to uncover.

    Unlike many of the people on here that are polarized one way or the other, I think we should appreciate how hard it is to get into the top half of the big 12 rankings in recruiting for OSU. For those that think winning is everything for a recruit, think about what age they identified a favorite school. The snapshot of the league when you identified a favorite team matters in your perception. If we can sustain success in the big 12 for the next 8-10 years, you’ll finally have people in Texas (and other non-oklahoma states) having OSU as their favorite school or top 3 favorite school in the nation. This makes recruiting much easier.

    Gundy is building a foundation that won’t be torn down by scandal (see previous attempts by sports writers COUGH SI Cough). He very likely won’t reap the ultimate rewards for his efforts while coaching. It will likely lie with Holder (or Holders future replacement) to hire a coach that can take what Gundy built and benefit from the foundation to build even higher. My argument here is that Gundy is doing the best he can with the cards he is dealt. Can we contend here and there like the 2011 team did? YEP!! And I’m so excited we can. But to become perennial contenders (Bama, the other OSU, Florida State) takes a coach that can maximize after a program builder (Gundy in this example) lays the foundation.

    With Jimmy Johnson and Les Miles, they weren’t program builders. They took bad teams and found moderate success and jumped at the chance to go somewhere the foundation had been laid. Gundy is building the foundation that either he or the next coach will capitalize on in 10 years or so. We just can’t have a K-State fiasco where Snyder builds a program and the keys are given to Prince to take them back to mediocrity. We have to have the home run hire of a Harbaugh, Dabo, or Gundy. I think if Gundy inherits a team that has averaged 9+ wins over 17-19 years (the 9 years that it has actually happened and then the theoretical 8-10 more years I believe that the program needs). Gundy takes us to the ‘ship AND is an elite recruiter.

    • Mark

      “Unlike many of the people on here that are polarized one way or the
      other, I think we should appreciate how hard it is to get into the top
      half of the big 12 rankings in recruiting for OSU. For those that think
      winning is everything for a recruit, think about what age they
      identified a favorite school. The snapshot of the league when you
      identified a favorite team matters in your perception. If we can sustain
      success in the big 12 for the next 10 years, you’ll finally have people
      in Texas (and other non-oklahoma states) having OSU as their favorite
      school or top 3 favorite school in the nation. This makes recruiting
      much easier.”

      — I agree with this paragraph 110%

  • Mark

    I really appreciate this particular article. Good job getting some takes outside of OSU fandom Kyle. I feel like they have the opinion that I have of Gundy – He’s underrated. I agree occasionally with the nay-sayers – everyone has valid points to make at times. Most of the time, however, the hate for Gundy and Yurcich is undeserved and wearisome. – And to quote Gundy: “That’s just my opinion.”

  • OKsailor

    Excellent article KP. I think the responses you got from the outside guys reinforces why some of us “get our backs up” when comments are made that there are a slew of coaches out there that if they had Gundy’s resources, could take us to the next level. No there aren’t. As Jake Trotter said, had it even been done? He could name maybe two schools from the last two decades. But you said exactly what it’s all about, success breeds the desire for more success. That’s what we all want for our school. It’s just that this last step is the absolute hardest part of the journey and it may not even be possible. That doesn’t keep us from wanting it oh so bad. Again, great article.

  • BBJD

    This is excellent. I think the biggest issue a lot of us have trouble coming to grips is that OU isn’t just our rival who has a stronger history in football they have one of the strongest histories in College football period. So comparing our recruiting to theirs or Nebraska is tough because we have the same disadvantages as them without all the history.

    I think a lot of the national guys did a great job of explaining that. Can we get to a national championship level as we are currently built…it is tough to say yes but think about this.

    Most would say if we can win the conference with one loss then that would be a successful season with an outside shot at the playoff. Well something I think has been overlooked due to all the bedlam losses (which are a problem but as I said it is tough to close the ground on a top 5 program) we have played OU 4 times since 2010 with a chance to end the season with 1 loss (5 if you ignore the Cent. Michigan loss). I triple checked this because it seemed unbelievable 4 (5*)out of 7 seasons with a chance to lose only 1 regular season game.

    Now we only won 1 out of those 4(5*) games against OU and obviously that is an issue but if we find a way to beat OU we are at the level that everyone talks about with our current players. I think we would all agree that 2010 and 2013 OU wasn’t dramatically better on the field and I’d say this year coaching held us back far more then the players. Truthfully we got run off the field in 2015 with a back up QB and they got run off the field in 2011.

    We aren’t far away, everyone in my opinion just needs to stay committed and let this thing keep building.

    • CaptainObvious

      Lose Bedlam and everyone loses their minds.

  • JG

    “The Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State football”…. Eddie took us to a final four and beat top ranked teams. It’s hardly the right comparison.

    • Kyle Porter

      Eddie Sutton won one Big 12 title. Gundy took OSU to a “final four” in 2011. Gundy will go down as a better coach than Eddie if he’s not already.

      • Stepdaddy

        I will take this be any day of the week. Gundy can not even beat OU! Are you kidding me. But for the fact T. Boone made him relinquish playing and hire Holgerson, OSU fans would not even have experienced the 2011 season. He took OSU to the “final four” that is laughable. Talk about orange colored glasses, there was no playoff at the time. OSU fans wish like hell there was but your assertion complete BS.

        I understand that you really support Gundy and a Sutton/Gundy comparison may make sense at some point, but comparing him at this point to a hall of fame coach and legend like Sutton is really laughable.

      • JG

        First off…”final four” in 2011 that’s hilarious and it will get me through my work day.
        I’ve always felt like we had a chance to beat anybody with those Eddie Sutton teams and he was (is) universally respected. Gundy does not command that respect, nor is it deserved. He rarely wins the big games, and his struggles with OU are the number one reason we haven’t ascended to a higher level in football. I do understand that Oklahoma is a great football program and expecting to beat them every year is absurd. However, we left a lot on the field last year and the years before it. I’ve watched enough of these Mike Gundy coached teams to know that we’re never getting to the National Championship under him.

        Eddie’s teams competed twice in real final four scenarios. Every Oklahoma State fan believed we could win a national championship in those years. It’s not that way for football. Everybody celebrates these 10 win seasons, as if that’s the best we can ever do.

        • Pokes405

          Well said.

        • CaptainObvious

          But Eddie did not do that every year. He did it twice over his tenure. Gundy has done it once so far. And it seems likely he will again.

      • Pokes405

        “Gundy will go down as a better coach than Eddie if he’s not already” is crazy, KP. In whose eyes? Being 2-10 against your arch rival alone should invalidate that statement.

      • OSUgary

        You have got to be kidding me! Nearly suggesting Gundy is ‘on par’ with Eddie is way way premature ‘at best’

      • OSUgary

        Coach Eddie took 3 different teams to Final 4’s…..His successful coaching longevity alone puts him into a completely different category than Gundy.
        Eddie single-handily resurrected 2 dead programs (with no facility, budget or fan base to speak of) …OSU & Arkansas…! Frankly speaking …At this point.. the only common characteristic I see between Eddie & Gundy is that neither one was adept at RECRUITING !!