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For Mike Gundy, the Bill Came Due but it’s Likely Not as Expensive as it Seems

On Chuba, Gundy and a wild Monday afternoon.



In a year defined by its myriad twists and turns, the most unexpected one of all came when Oklahoma State Heisman candidate Chuba Hubbard took a stance against his head coach on Monday with his teammates standing with him. After a photo of Gundy in a One America News Network t-shirt surfaced over the weekend, Hubbard said he was done at OSU “until things change.”

The two later released a video together in which Hubbard apologized for tweeting his thoughts and not going to Gundy first, and Gundy promised change. It was a nice step in the right direction, but many — like Berry Tramel — are wondering if it’s enough to get Gundy through the summer.

For the better part of his career in Stillwater, Gundy has accumulated social goodwill and media capital because he is animated, funny, runs a clean program and wins a lot. He’s been an easy person to like and cover over the course of his career. An easy person to laugh with and root for.

Somewhere along the way, though, he started testing some of the power that comes with all that goodwill and capital. It never amounted to much on the whole, but in the last few seasons he has become more brazen. Discussing liberalism and snowflakes. Telling reporters what they can and cannot cover. Saying social media is destroying the country. All of the flirting with Baylor and Tennessee and whoever else came calling.

Out in the public, it was mostly fun and games for the people who root for college football. Piling on the media (us) is easy and a fun side sport to the main event. Laughing about the good ol’ days when players weren’t as soft as they are now was harmless. But all the while people at Oklahoma State — not all of them but many of them — rolled their eyes and shook their heads at his song and dance. It wasn’t necessarily wrong, but it seemed as if, at least internally within the buildings in Stillwater, he was juggling swords.

All of that came to a head in April on the conference call where he talked about the “Chinese virus” and repped One America News Network completely unprompted. More eye-rolling and some maybe more serious conversations followed all of that, but what can anyone else do when you’re the most powerful person at the university and in the town?

Except that … maybe you’re not.

There are only a handful of athletes in OSU history who could have put Gundy in the position he was in on Monday. Chuba is one of them. If Chuba is a backup punter and not the best tailback in the country, his voice still has merit, but it doesn’t empower those around him to tell their stories and it certainly doesn’t put Gundy on his heels like it did. Now, though? Now what?

There are so many layers to what’s going on here. At the crossroads of race-related riots in the United States, a country that has become more polarized by the day, a lack of media literacy nationally and one of the most-anticipated college football seasons in OSU history lies a single tweet by the only person who could possibly send it and see the reaction it received.

The bill came due for Gundy. For all his off-hand comments about snowflakes and how players aren’t made like they used to be. That stuff is garbage, and everybody knows it but nobody can call him on it because he has a platform as quite possibly the most powerful person in the state. This wasn’t about a t-shirt. It was about years and years of stupid little “haha, wait was that actually funny?” comments and quips by Gundy.

Taken on a case-by-case basis, Gundy’s stuff is irritating and maybe a little bit frustrating, but when you start stacking those incidents up, it becomes problematic. It has become clear that Gundy has disassociated the way he thinks with the way most of the other people in his organization — including all (?) of his players — think. But again, who could call his bluff? When you win 10 games a year for this long with a lifetime contract in your hands, there’s not much anyone can do.

I genuinely think Gundy means well, but with power and money comes distance and insulation. When the only people who legitimately have your ear are the people who won’t tell you no, that’s not great. It becomes quite fun to toy with your power, and of late it seems as if Gundy has very much enjoyed toying with his power. It seems as if he has become more obstinate with age and less empathetic along the way. In turn, he has lost much of the capital he built up over the years from people who matter far more than me.

For reasons that I do not understand, it seems as if Gundy has been daring somebody — anybody — to call him on his antics for years. This is an opinion that is shared by many folks in and out of the organization. Today’s incident proved the point. Here are the reasons you would wear a t-shirt of a news network that has more or less said the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t matter when you work in an industry in which many of your players and recruits are Black.

1. You didn’t know and thought the shirt was funny.
2. You don’t care and are daring someone to call you on it.

I believe (and certainly hope) it’s the former, but it’s very easy to not put yourself in that position to begin with.

Because the response to this has started well — if awkward and a bit forced — I don’t think this will cost him his job. From the folks I’ve talked to, I don’t really think it should. Will it snap him out of the disillusion that words don’t matter and that the things he says in public are good for grins and giggles? I hope so, but for this to cost you your job, you either have to completely dig in against, well, what has turned into your entire team or there has to be some sort of systemic abuse (that is provable) over the course of your tenure as the head coach. Based on folks I’ve talked to over the years, Gundy might pop off and enjoy flexing some of that power he has attained, but that’s not the kind of program he runs.

It’s a fascinating story. Gundy’s Cowboy culture running up against a lot of current and former(and future) players. It would be one thing if it was a handful here and there, but when Justice Hill is weighing in on stuff, that’s not nothing. That’s a big deal, and OSU will handle this as if it’s a big deal in the days ahead. There is certainly more to be said about the issues at hand.

The one thing I can’t get out of my head as I think about this and try to figure it all out is maybe the greatest irony in all of this. That is that the only person more powerful than Mike Gundy and his $5.2 million contract — the only person in OSU world who could stand up to him and actually hear the reverberation — is somebody who three years ago had no power at all and right now makes $0 a year. If that doesn’t engender some sort of humility then I don’t believe anything ever will.

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