STILLWATER, Okla. -- Sometime in late June, in an Omaha parking lot, Mike Gundy was booking it across the asphalt. He was in town for his son's baseball tournament and had College World Series tickets. Dressed in street clothes, with nary an Oklahoma State logo, he figured he'd enjoy some anonymity among the college baseball fans. He was wrong.
A pair of tailgating fans, one from LSU and one from Cal State Fullerton, spotted the man's now-famous mullet.
"Hey, Coach!" one yelled as the other excitedly joined in. "I'm a man! I'm 40!"
"Can you believe that?" Gundy recalls, laughing as he sits in his office at Boone Pickens Stadium a few weeks later. "I didn't tell them that it ain't even accurate now. I'm still a man. But I'm about to be 50."
A decade ago, Gundy -- then a red-faced quadragenarian hothead -- launched a few million YouTube views, and nearly that many birthday cakes, with one of college football's first true viral moments and perhaps the most famous postgame rant in sports history. One that, like a great movie, is still eminently quotable:
"I DON'T READ THE NEWSPAPER: BECAUSE IT'S GARBAGE!"
"THAT AIN'T TRUE!"
"MAKES ME WANT TO PUKE!"
And, of course:
"I'M A MAN, I'M 40!"
Yes, as of Saturday, the kid who set all those Oklahoma high school and Oklahoma State passing records, the cocky and wide-eyed guy who was 37 when he became head coach at his alma mater, will be 50.
"I see that guy on that video and I see a guy who was going to work every single day with his fists clenched, feeling like he's gotta scrap for every single inch every single day," Gundy says now. He can't recall the last time he watched the clip voluntarily, but he doesn't have to. That stalking, shouting, pointing man is permanently embedded on the memory card of his mind. "Don't misunderstand, we're still fighting for everything we get around here. But if you could go back in time, I would want to put my arm around that guy and say, 'Hey dude, it's going to be OK.' Because here we are a decade later, and you know what?" Gundy pauses and points out the window of his office into the stadium below. "It is pretty OK, isn't it?"
That office overlooks a stadium that's been enclosed and ringed with luxury boxes. The office lobby is draped in trophies, including awards for 17 bowl wins over 115 years of football played. Gundy was involved in 10 of those wins, as quarterback for two, assistant coach for one and head coach for seven. He also had a hand in bringing the Heisman Trophy to Stillwater, or more accurately, handoffs to the man who won it, Barry Sanders. Now there is much chatter in Stillwater and elsewhere that Gundy might be coaching the school's second Heisman winner, quarterback and NFL draft buzz-generator Mason Rudolph.
"I have been on this campus and in this stadium my entire adult life," explains the man who arrived as a freshman from Midwest City, Oklahoma, in the summer of 1987. "I like the mindset of a place like Oklahoma State. I think it's the same mindset you have to have if you're at Michigan State or Georgia Tech or Auburn, the underdog guys. You're not the brand name. You're not always on the tip of everybody's tongue. Nothing's handed to you because you're not the flagship or whatever you want to call it.
"It's not easy and never has been easy. But I can tell you this, when you finally have some success, when you win those battles and look into the eyes of the folks who have stuck with it through some really bad times -- man, that's a feeling like nothing else."
In mid-June, he finally ended a wrestling match with his boss, legendary golf coach-turned-athletic director Mike Holder, signing a five-year contract extension that will pay Gundy more than $4.2 million annually. The biggest sticking point during the negotiation wasn't about Gundy's salary. For two years he continually walked out of Holder's office, demanding that his coaching and support staffs be raised off the bottom rung of the Big 12's payroll standings. They were, and the resulting pep in their collective steps has added a visible pride to his own stride.
"When you walk around here and you see what's happened to this place and this program, and you saw where it was -- you lived it like I have, like my teammates did, like my staff has, like my players did just a few years ago. Getting over that hump, man, that ain't a hump. It's a damn mountain."
It's not a stretch to say that the day the crest of that mountain finally came within sight was Sept. 22, 2007. That's when the tirade happened. Gundy walked into his normal postgame media session after a game that had been anything but normal, a 49-45 track meet victory over Texas Tech. When he stalked into the room, he was toting a copy of that morning's Daily Oklahoman. He was angry over a column in that paper about his benching of quarterback Bobby Reid.
The author, Jenni Carlson, was in the room and Gundy knew it. Pacing the floor like an angry animal, he unleashed the three-minute, 15-second tirade with scathing remarks that started with, "I want to talk about this article right here," ended with, "It makes me want to puke," and reached its crescendo with "Come after me! I'm a man! I'm 40!"
Lost now to the smudges of history's rearview mirror is the venomous reception Gundy received at the time. He came off as a bully. A desperate, too-young head coach coming off a road loss to Troy. Berry Tramel, a longtime anchor of Oklahoma sportswriting, said Gundy was "out of bounds." Football Writers Association of America president Mike Griffith publicly declared the coach's conduct as "completely inappropriate." Former FWAA president Dennis Dodd wrote about a coach who complained about lack of attention for his team but then flipped out "when someone dares pull the curtain back to take a peek ... a 13-15 coach at a program that no one outside his clandestine world cares about." ESPN The Magazine published a roundhouse kick of a story in which Reid, who'd transferred to Texas Southern, said the incident "basically ended my life."
"That whole thing was harder than people remember, and honestly, it was harder for a lot of people than I realized at the time," Gundy says now.
For all its viral notoriety, the timing seemed disastrous. YouTube was approaching its third birthday and was just beginning to catch fire. Facebook, only one year older, was taking over college campuses. In September 2007, millions of people were buying their first iPhones. ESPN had only recently promoted SportsCenter from a few-times-a-day studio show to a 24-hour machine.
Images and audio of a pointing, preaching football coach were no longer merely fodder for local newscasts. Now they belonged to the world.
"I remember coming into the press room after Mike was done with his press conference, like I did after every game, and immediately it was weird," recalls Larry Fedora, then Gundy's offensive coordinator and currently North Carolina's head coach. No one had any questions, not even after a 49-point performance. Instead, the media members just stared, shell-shocked by what they'd just witnessed. When Fedora got home that evening, he grabbed a drink and a cigar and crossed the cul-de-sac to Gundy's house. "I knocked on the door and said, 'What the hell happened in your press conference?' He invited me in and said, 'I'll show you. It's already on YouTube.' And I was like, 'OK, but what the hell is a YouTube?' We didn't really know what the term 'viral sensation' meant. But it sounded pretty bad."
Initially, it was. Then it wasn't.
As the views counter clicked upward, the reaction to the coach with a face as orange as his team colors began to shift. When Gundy and his staff hit the road for recruiting, they were greeted by parents and grandparents embracing what the coach had done. "I go in, and somebody would say, 'Coach, I want him to play for you because I saw what you did,'" Gundy said. "And most of the time it was a minority home, where we all know in America they still feel like they're getting cheated. That's life. We can all try to act like that's not true, but it's true. Which, I could give a s--- if they're white, black, whatever. I want good kids. But if they think there's a head coach that's white who comes in there, and they really believe he's really going to fight for their son, that's to their advantage. That's powerful. I don't ever want to let that family down."
The next season, anchored by a top-25 recruiting class that included Dez Bryant, the Cowboys won nine games for the first time in five years and only the second time since Gundy was in the OSU backfield with Sanders. From 2001 to 2007, Oklahoma State posted seven nine-win seasons. Gundy's teams have done that in seven of the last nine years.
During that time, he has made peace with Reid. The former player reached out in 2011 and they "cleared the air." Reid joined the OSU staff two years later, working in quality control for two seasons. Gundy's relationship with Carlson is apparent to anyone who watches an Oklahoma State press conference online. There's never been a formal apology or conversation between them, but as the 10th anniversary of their shared moment approaches, their working relationship is just that, a working relationship.
It's all part of what Gundy describes as "10 years of realizing you aren't right about everything all of the time." When he took over his alma mater's football program from Les Miles in 2005, he was an insomniac and serial micromanager. He spent eight hours a day being offensive coordinator and eight hours a day dominating every room he walked into, whether it was telling the equipment crew the proper way to inflate footballs or rewriting the midweek playbooks presented to him by his assistant coaches. The frazzled man they saw flying off the handle behind closed doors looked an awful lot like the guy stomping around the podium, waving a newspaper on YouTube.
"We all dream of being the boss, but then when you become the boss it's a lot more to handle than you expected, I don't care who you are," says West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen, who spent 2010 as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator, hired -- like Fedora before him -- to take a load off Gundy's offensive mind. "I think he made mistakes juggling all that. I know he did because we talked about it. I was like, I won't do that. Then I get here and I totally messed some stuff up. He was quick to give me hell about that. But he learned and I learned, and one day it's like, I think I'm getting the hang of this deal."
"My first three years I was terrible about that, especially the 'I told you so' part," Gundy said. "I'd tell someone, 'You'd better not try that play because it ain't gonna work,' and if it didn't I'd be up in their business on Monday: 'See? That didn't work! I told you so!' Well, guess what, young Coach Gundy? None of it worked. Why? Because I was a young dumbass. You can't do it all yourself. It's moving too fast. I don't care if you're 40 or 50. Now I try to hire the best people, let them do their thing and get out of their way."
The 10 years since the rant have taught Gundy to trade in the pedal-to-the-metal and CYA for CEO. He moves from department to department, taking the temperature of every room. He spends practices taking in a 30,000-foot perspective from a 50-foot tower. Those practices are downright light and fluffy compared to the jawbreaker sessions he used to map out. The Cowboys haven't run a full-tackle "kick his ass" practice in nine years, and as a result have seen less fatigue and more success down the homestretch of seasons.
He's now as much physiologist as football strategist, talking less about spreads and coverage reads and more about sleep studies, heart loads, GPS step-tracking and mental health. He pores over sociology studies of millennials: "What motivated me when I was playing, that doesn't work anymore." He attends leadership conferences, reads whatever he can on Bill Belichick, and recently befriended Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma. "I know I've worn him out, but I'm fascinated that a man who has literally won everything there is to win can stay so motivated."
Don't misunderstand here. The fire is still there. There are still short-fuse moments, particularly when OSU's quarterback play is bad, as it was in 2014 prior to the pulling of Rudolph's redshirt. Now they are notable because they are the exception and not the modus operandi.
"I do what we call a turd check. I go into the room with the roster on the board and say, 'We got any turds up here?' We used to have a ton of them. Now we hardly have any. But when we do, we go into my office and talk. You know, 'What's going on, man?' It's not yelling, it's just asking what's wrong and asking what can we do."
There are still mountains to scramble over. The sting still lingers from a missed opportunity to make the BCS National Championship in 2011. He's still beaten Oklahoma only twice in a dozen tries. At the end of every OSU season, there always seems to be that one missing piece that makes the year feel unsatisfying.
But at 50, even the less fun parts of the job feel pretty damn fun. Certainly, more fun than they were at 40. The fun parts -- hunting rattlesnakes on Twitter, doing mullet critiques on SportsCenter, beating Texas and winning bowl games -- they're really fun. That's why he wanted the new, longer contract, the one that will get him to at least 55: "One day they might find someone they think can do this better than me. But that ain't right now. Right now is fun."
The line that divides having fun and not, between screaming all the time versus pausing to appreciate life a little more, can be found slashed through the box on the calendar that reads: Sept. 22, 2007.
"You know, I don't hear it like I used to. I don't see T-shirts or birthday cakes or any of that anymore. But I still hear it from you guys in the media. And I do still get it when I'm on the road recruiting. At the time it happened, you would have never thought you'd ever hear anyone say this, but you know what?"
Mike Gundy, on the eve of 50, draws his lips up into a WTH grin and shakes his head.
"'I'm a man, I'm 40' is the best thing that ever happened to Oklahoma State football."