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Comparisons Already Being Made Between Gundy’s Cowboys, Whittingham’s Utes, but Gundy Plans to Outlast Whittingham

‘We both have been anomalies, I guess you could say, in our own respect.’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

Although miles and time zones apart, only 26 days separated when Mike Gundy and Kyle Whittingham took over their respective football programs nearly 20 years ago. Now, they share a conference, still leading the same programs as two of the country’s longest-tenured coaches.

“He and I have never really crossed paths much because the West Coast league was different than us, and so I spent some time with him in Phoenix and we had a good talk,” Gundy said.

Gundy on Tuesday attended his 20th Big 12 Football Media Days ahead of his 20th season leading the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Whittingham is also about to coach Utah for his 20th season, but this was his first Big 12 Media Days as Utah officially joins the conference Aug. 2 after leaving the Pac-12. This will be the third time Whittingham guides the Utes through a conference transition after Utah left the Mountain West for the Pac-12 in 2011 and from the WAC to the MWC even before that.

Even when Whittingham was winning conference titles in the Pac-12 from a distance, though, Gundy would still mention Utah and compare the similarities between their programs. That respect and parallel only continued at Big 12 Media Days in the first event with the two men who are tied as the second-longest tenured coaches in college football.

“Coach Gundy has done a terrific job there, just competitive every single year,” Whittingham said. “Fields quality football teams. They’re tough. They’re physical.

“Reminds me a lot of us. I think there’s a lot of parallels between the two programs. I think myself and Coach Gundy are weeks apart from when we took over these programs, so we both have been anomalies, I guess you could say, in our own respect.”

Utah will play Baylor Week 2 in a game that was already scheduled before the conference shift, so a trip to Boone Pickens Stadium two weeks later will technically be the Utes’ Big 12 opener.

“It should be a hard-fought game,” Whittingham said. “Never been to Stillwater, so it will be a new experience for myself, and I’m sure very few, if any, of our players have been there. But we’ll find out right away where we stand. They’re a very good football team and looking forward to that opportunity.”

After running the Pac-12 the last decade, Utah enters its inaugural Big 12 season as conference favorites, according to the Big 12 Preseason Poll that put the Utes at No. 1. OSU was No. 3 behind Kansas State in that poll after making the Big 12 Championship game last season.

“We feel like we’ve got a roster that’s equipped to compete right away,” Whittingham said. “Obviously the media feels the same way as far as being picked the favorite. I think that’s a show of respect to our players and coaches that have done a great job competing through the years that the media has selected us No. 1.

“But in the final analysis, that doesn’t mean anything. Obviously you’ve got to play the games, and our players are fully aware of that. But, again, it’s a nice show of respect for our program from the media.”

Longevity comes from success, as both coaches have built cultures of consistency and are the all-time leaders in wins at their programs. Gundy hasn’t coached a losing team since his first season in 2005, 19 years ago. But no matter how long things last, there’s always an end. Gundy has witnessed that firsthand recently after friend and former co-worker John Smith retired as OSU’s wrestling coach after a 33-year career.

Gundy is 56. Whittingham is 64. Eight years older than Gundy, Whittingham and Utah have already started preparing for his retirement, whenever that might be. Utah recently named defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley as coach-in-waiting. But that’s where these coaches are different, because for Gundy, he’s not close to that point yet.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be in a situation to say Oklahoma State football is in great shape and this is somebody I would recommend to be the head coach here and would make me comfortable, I would like that and appreciate it,” Gundy said. “I have a lot of years and a lot of service at this place. And I would like to see it get better and better and better, and when I’m done, even better. I want to be able to go and sit in a suite and enjoy watching the game and be proud of a sold-out stadium and a premiere team on the field that has a chance to win every Saturday. That’s what I would look forward to at some point. Now when that would happen, probably gonna be a long time based on I feel good. Unless they run me off.

“But it’s a good question, I never thought about [a coach-in-waiting]. But I really believe it’s so far down the line for me that I don’t have to think about it, but at some point, I would like to be able to say maybe these two guys to pick from, because Oklahoma State is a different situation. It’s a very unusual job. You have to have a little bit of history with it to really know it, in my opinion.”

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