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In a Tense Moment for OSU, Mike Gundy’s Apology Was a Refreshing Act of Humility

Saying “I was wrong” is as powerful as it gets.



They helped me see through their eyes how the t-shirt affected their hearts.

Did Oklahoma State’s football program change with a single sentence? Even if Mike Gundy is giving a post-Big 12 title game speech in the middle of AT&T Stadium in December (or whenever), that might be the most important line he utters all year.

You can criticize the teleprompter read or the way it was delivered — and some of you have! — but none of that matters. It does not matter. What matters is that it takes gobs of what Gundy has so often lacked during his past decade at Oklahoma State — humility — to do what he did on Tuesday afternoon and apologize.

To sit down and say, I was wrong, I should not have done this is not mitigated by whatever you think his body language was or was not. Laying down your pride after a 21-year-old called your bluff and you know he’s right but you also know that you don’t have to capitulate? That’s big-time, and he didn’t have to do it.

I think some of you believe that I hate Mike Gundy or want him fired or think he’s been terrible for Oklahoma State. The reality here is quite the opposite for several reasons. 1. Mike Gundy is very good for our business. Not the mullets and rattlesnakes but rather the wins and success. We thrive when OSU thrives, and Gundy has made OSU hum for 15 straight years. 2. Gundy is incredibly fun to cover. He’s great at talking football and telling stories, and enjoys the banter this profession can bring.

So what do I actually want out of all of this? Why have I gone after Gundy for the Chinese virus stuff and the “running money through the state” stuff and in recent days — albeit more lightly — over his OAN shirt? Is it because I think he’s a Very Bad Dude whose wrists and ankles should be chained to the tunnels under Boone Pickens Stadium where he is forced to watch early 90s OSU football games on a loop? Or is it simply because I crave the attention that comes with being an internet rabble-rouser (as it were)?

It’s — I would hope this is obvious? — none of the above. Rather, I get stirred up by two different things as it relates to Mike Gundy, OSU and the future.

1. I’m passionate about the abuse of power: Is Mike Gundy abusive or does he run an abusive program? I mean, if there’s evidence of this — real evidence — I have yet to see it or hear about it in a substantial way, either publicly or privately (note: there are some lingering questions here).

However … does Mike Gundy sometimes abuse the power he’s earned as the most successful person in the richest sport at the perfect time in school history? I think you could pretty easily find some folks inside (and definitely outside!) the organization who would affirm that. And that is problematic.

This is no way to run an organization, we all know that. The best leaders are generous and empathetic, and most of the evidence we have of the last few years — primarily from things that Gundy himself has said — is that he has not been generous nor empathetic. He says what he wants when he wants to say it and doesn’t really seem to care about the consequences.

This quote from a writer I read as often as possible named Andy Crouch is the way I think about power (a topic I’m fascinated by) and some of the time the way I’ve thought about Gundy.

Among the many dark gifts of power is distance—distance from accountability, distance from consequences, distance from the pain we cause others, distance from self-knowledge, distance from friendship, distance from the truth. [TGC]

Does not at least some of that sum up what we’ve seen this week?

Power — unfettered power — can wilt even the best organizations if given enough time and enough opportunity. I don’t know that that’s where OSU was or wasn’t eventually headed, but I’m certainly glad that the only person with more power than Gundy did what he did, and I’m glad that he did it in public.

2. I want OSU football to be even better than it is: Again, things are better for all of us when OSU is great. This begs the obvious question of whether OSU football has been held back over the years because Gundy has lacked humility? Is that a stupid thing to even think? While it’s an unanswerable hypothetical, I do know that some at OSU have wondered what the program would look like with everybody pulling in the same direction at all times and in the same way.

Writing and talking about all of this stuff, it’s not fun. Our mentions? Not fun. My inbox? Not fun. It’s not why I started this site. But I also think some of it can help engender change that is good for Oklahoma State. Those outcomes can vary depending on how all of it plays out, but I think most of us can agree that Tuesday’s outcome was the most desirable of all the paths.

Maybe that’s hopelessly romantic or unbelievably naive, but if we do actually agree that Oklahoma State football is in a stronger, more galvanized and better place right now than it was two days ago (and maybe that’s untrue, but if you believe Gundy’s video and stance then it also seems as if you would believe it’s true), I do have to wonder why everyone is still so angry.

And while Gundy didn’t owe any of us anything, it was still incredibly refreshing to watch him lay down his sword on Tuesday in that video. Some of you think this is caving in or rolling over. It’s not. It’s what real leadership looks like. Again, this line is difficult. Being a great leader is hard as hell. That’s why there are so few in the myriad worlds we all live in. Gundy doesn’t get enough credit for the things he does well, but the frustration is that it’s so easy to see how even a modicum of humility could make things even better than they were.

I hope everyone understands that this is not about a t-shirt or a virus. This is not about a list of player demands or what Gundy will or won’t give his guys. This is about a mindset shift (a heart shift!) from I’m a lone wolf, can say whatever I want and nobody can do anything about it to actually we’re all in this together, help me care for you better than I was caring for you before.

Because getting somebody to do what you want them to do or go where you want them to go — i.e. coaching — is effective when you’re in control but transformative when those you’re teaching actually believe you care. If you’re a parent, you know this to be true.

I’m speaking to myself here, too. None of us would particularly enjoy the dark spaces that would come to light if we were the ones in charge. But how many of us would be willing to say, I was wrong? I don’t know that I would.

I don’t know where this story ends. It doesn’t end today, and it won’t end tomorrow and not next week or next month and hopefully not for a long time. In fact, there is a world in which this engenders a deeper and more unified Oklahoma State for the decade after this. Crises — and boy has OSU had a lot of those this year — provide an unequivocal opportunity for change. That takes constant humility, though, which is a difficult place to return to. Like Chuba said, it’s a good first step.

Power can’t be measured by money or counted by control. True power empowers others, but it takes an unbelievable amount of humility to cede the control you have built up. Mike Gundy, who seemed a bit shook in a way he hasn’t been shook in a while (if ever), finally — with that 60-second video on Tuesday — displayed more vulnerability and humility than he’s shown in the last 10 years combined. Oklahoma State will be better for it and so will Mike Gundy.

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