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Mike Gundy Changed Our World, for Better and for Worse

On a phone call this March that did not go so well.



If you haven’t read it yet, you should read Berry Tramel’s piece here.

A website that you could update hourly with Oklahoma State football news that people would read. Who among us would have seen something like this coming even after the internet was invented? For most of its history, OSU football was lowly and uninteresting. Its very best was only good for a handful of years. Then, more lowly and uninteresting.

Mike Gundy changed that.

Oklahoma State football has toed the line between good and great for a decade and a half. Unfathomable for most of my childhood, a reality of my adult life.

I didn’t know what I was doing when I started this website in 2011. I didn’t know that I was stepping into a golden age of Oklahoma State football, which engendered unforeseen interest into this program that some of us were already very interested in. I thought I was just, you know, starting a blog. A very mid-2000s thing to do.

But largely because of Mike Gundy and the work he’s done with OSU’s football program, there was enough interest to turn this into a part-time job for me as well as a side business for my family.

For many years, that didn’t matter to Oklahoma State, which I understood. They didn’t allow us to cover any of their teams in-person. Didn’t allow us to cover games or practices, didn’t allow a photographer. New media is new media, and you have to earn trust, which we did not do a very good job of right away.

Over time, though, we did. We did professional work for many, many years, hired folks part-time and eventually hired somebody — our beat writer, Marshall Scott — full-time. It became a small but very fun and hopefully influential media company. All centered around writing, talking and podcasting about this thing Mike Gundy had built in Stillwater, USA.

In 2017, I got a phone call that we were (finally!) being credentialed to cover OSU sports. By that time, our annual readership was close to 1 million users and pageviews were 10X that. There were caveats, of course. The only people allowed to go to any basketball and football games were myself and Kyle Boone, but we could have other folks go to media availability, practices and press conferences as well as soccer and baseball games.

It was a good step forward, and we’ve made it work for the last three years. Boone and I attend games when we can, even though neither of us lives in Stillwater. Scott goes to all other games besides football, which he’s still not allowed to go to.

Then in the spring of 2019, Scott — again, this is a full-time employee of our company, and this is his only job — was told he couldn’t attend spring practice, couldn’t cover the football team in-person. This was Mike Gundy’s decision, and OSU told us to keep it quiet and they would work it out for the fall. We kept it quiet, and they worked it out for the fall. Not exactly great relations, but again things were mostly working.

Then on March 3, 2020 Gundy called me on my cell phone. I didn’t answer because I didn’t recognize the number. I called him back 30 minutes later.

He said something along the lines of, I was going over our spring media list and wanted to tell you that your organization is no longer on it. You’re no longer allowed to cover OSU football in-person.

I asked him why, and he said, “Because I don’t believe in blogs.” I asked him for how long. He said, “For as long as I’m the head coach at Oklahoma State.”

He went on to tell me it’s not just sports blogs he doesn’t believe in, but all blogs (Gundy has a blog on, by the way) and that he “doesn’t want to get caught up in blogs.”

We said our goodbyes, and that was that. Now listen, being credentialed isn’t the biggest thing in the world. It’s a thing, but it’s not the biggest thing. The more stunning part of this phone call is that somebody that powerful would use his power to … try and stamp out a website that has been 90 percent (?), 95 percent (?) positive about him and his organization and a university which he is in many ways the face of. Especially a website that already covers all other sports so comprehensively.

You guys know the rest. Gundy talked about the China virus in April, and I crushed him for it. Then the Chuba stuff. But I wanted to make it publicly clear that he called me in March before any of that happened, before COVID-19 shut down spring ball.

Berry Tramel wrote about this for the Oklahoman today. He was very generous, and I appreciated that. Above everything else about this situation, I guess I don’t really understand any of it. I’ve had repeated conversations with OSU about what we did wrong or if any of our people have acted unprofessionally in any way. They have told me about two details that we messed up in two different football stories, and I apologized for them. That’s all I have to go on; everything else was simply Gundy wielding his power.

The entire situation is absolutely silly. I’m a professional sportswriter. I can ask Tiger Woods a question to his face after he wins the Masters, but I can’t talk to (and none of my people can talk to) players and coaches at OSU? Oddly, we’ve been welcomed into so many other areas at OSU. Scott sat down with baseball coach Josh Holliday recently and wrote a really great story about the opening of OSU’s new stadium today.

Some of this is not Gundy’s fault. I genuinely don’t think he understands how the internet works or how websites function. I don’t blame him for this. These decisions say less about what he does or doesn’t think and more about how much power is extended to him, which is disappointing all the way around.

In the end, we will continue to write and publish as much OSU content as you can read and listen to. We will continue to cover OSU football in creative ways. We will continue to, as we always have, cover Gundy and the football program positively when it’s deserved and negatively in the rare instances where it’s not. We will continue to be PFB.

The part that makes me sad here is that power could be adjudicated so much differently. We don’t need Gundy to do a weekly bit on our podcast, we just need him to treat us like we’re, I don’t know, the most widely-read digital outlet that covers him and his program on a daily basis.

I tell my friends nobody has affected my life more disproportionately to how much I actually know them than Mike Gundy. I’ve always framed that positively because covering him and his program has been so much fun and brought us so much success. Now, though, after all of this nonsense over who-knows-what that made him call me on March 3 to strip away parts of the business we’ve labored to build over the last decade? I’ll still say it, but it will certainly have a different meaning than it did before.

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