DALLAS -- I'm roaming around at the AFCA Convention this week, a national convention for coaches at every level of football from high school all the way up to the FBS level. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was one of the featured speakers at the daily main gathering of the thousands of coaches on Monday afternoon, and spent an hour laying out how he runs his program and a few of his philosophies.
Other speakers this week doing what Gundy did on Monday: Wisconsin's Brett Bielema, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and, coincidentally, LSU's Les Miles.
A quick straw poll of a few coaches I was sitting around told me this: Gundy was impressive. I thought so, and about everyone I talked to did, too.
To summarize: Gundy basically got more than an hour to lay out what he's all about in front of a few thousand coaches, with probably half or more hailing from high schools. Don't think something like that will help recruiting?
It was an enjoyable listen, and here are some of the highlights from his 73-minute speech.
Self-deprecating humor looks good on just about anyone, and Gundy wore it well on Monday. Self-awareness is always good to see, and Gundy isn't ignorant about what most of the coaches in the room would know him from. On his relationship with the media and his former coach, Pat Jones: "He's changed stripes. He's a media guy now, which, you guys know, they're not one of my favorite people. ... There was some people outside from Sports Illustrated and CBS who were going to try to grab me for a couple quotes before I got in here, and one guy said, 'Do you have a card so I can get in touch with you later?' And I just said, 'Look, if you just look on YouTube, you'll get all the information you need about me and whether we want to do this media interview or not.'" He drew some solid laughs for that one.
Oklahoma State has 121 players. Sixty-eight are from Texas. When Gundy first took the job at Oklahoma State, he wanted to make a big splash in Texas. He wanted to "market Oklahoma State, market our coaches and toe the line on the rules." The Cowboys' answer: strategically placed billboards that adhered to NCAA rules. His best one: A billboard two blocks down from Perrish Cox's house in Waco, Texas, with a coach pointing his finger at Cox's home that read, "We want you...to be a part of our team." Coaches also wore colorful NASCAR-looking shirts whenever they went to high schools or made other public appearances. "When we went to conventions, or in those schools, people saw us, recognized us and knew who we were."
Gundy says he and his coaches work hard when they're working, but don't overwork themselves or their players. Early in his career, Gundy said he would show up at 5:45 a.m. and leave at 10 p.m. pretty often. That, he said, turned out to be counterproductive, and he runs his program differently. "It was hard for me to finally look at the big picture and say, 'Enough. We work too much, and it's not going to help us.' So we backed off," Gundy said. "This season, we were as fresh as we've ever been in games 8 through the bowl game. Coaches and players were as fresh as we've ever been. We've had fewer injuries than we've ever had. Our stamina in the fourth quarter was better."
Gundy's effort to get donations from billionaire booster Boone Pickens to upgrade facilities was a concerted one bent on changing the attitude of people within the Oklahoma State program. The Cowboys won under former coach Les Miles, but Gundy didn't see an attitude change. That's what he wanted. Wins have followed for Gundy, who has won 29 games in his past three seasons at Oklahoma State after winning 18 in his first three.
Gundy tries to make an effort to reward his coaches who are loyal and may get passed up for other jobs because they're not out advertising themselves.
He trains and wants his current players to be his best recruiters when recruits come on campus. "We tell [recruits] up front, we're going to turn you loose with our team, and we want them to tell you what it's like to be a student and a football player at Oklahoma State," Gundy said. It got back to Gundy that a small number of current players told recruits they shouldn't come to the school. "That's a serious issue," he said.
Oklahoma State had no curfew problems during its week at the Alamo Bowl, and Gundy credits his hard-line stance with Perrish Cox last year at the Cotton Bowl. Cox missed curfew and Gundy held him out of the game. "I kind of backed myself into a corner a little bit, I wished I had said, 'Well, you won't play the first quarter," Gundy said with a laugh. "I got real bold and said, 'You miss curfew, you ain't playing!' Then he missed curfew and I thought, 'Shoot, that ain't very good." Gundy drew big laughs for the one. Two OSU coaches said Cox shouldn't play. The rest said they wanted to discuss hedging on the rule. "We stuck with it, and I'm convinced it was the right thing to do."
At OSU, a player committee of 10 players chosen by position, plus two true freshmen, decide the punishment for teammates who break team rules. "Players take it better when they know the punishment is coming from their peers," Gundy said.
Gundy told his fellow coaches, "Don't flinch in tough times." He recounted the team's situation with Dez Bryant in 2009, which resulted in Bryant being suspended for the final nine games of the season. "The NCAA, I was on the phone with them at 11:30 at night the night before we opened with Georgia at home. The biggest game ever in the history of Oklahoma State football in nonconference to open a season. ... At that point, you want to crumble. There was so much hype about this first game, and you're going to run out on the field and you may not have Dez Bryant." Gundy also talked about missing Kendall Hunter for eight games that year and missing linebacker Orie Lemon for the year after he blew out his knee days before the game. Donald Booker notched 100 tackles at linebacker for the Cowboys that year, and Keith Toston finished with a 1,000-yard season. "As a coach, you can't flinch. I don't care what's going on inside of you. I don't care if you want to drop and cry, you can never flinch, because your assistants and players are watching you," Gundy said. "Don't flinch. The kids will play better than you think."
Gundy says he tells his players that media attention only becomes an issue if you start to believe it. "I got real concerned this year after the fourth or fifth game about all the attention Justin Blackmon was getting and that Brandon Weeden was getting and Kendall Hunter was getting and Orie Lemon was getting," he said. "I worry about the other 100 guys or the other 35 guys that play seeing those guys as different and starting to divide the team a little bit. As a coach, if you let that go and don't deal with it. ... It's important that you talk to guys about that and be upfront about it."