Success gets you only so far.
True enough, it has opened doors for Oklahoma State, and it has transformed the national perception of the Cowboys.
Yet the Pokes still have room to grow because recruiting has gone full circle during Mike Gundy’s time in Stillwater. During his first few years in the program, Gundy’s philosophy centered on evaluation and development of undervalued prospects, which helped land future NFL players such as Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon.
But that wasn’t necessarily the way Gundy wanted it. It was how it had to be.
“This is what we have to do, this is what we believe in,” Gundy said of the approach before OSU’s rise. “There’s some risk involved, but it doesn’t matter. This is what we have to do.”
The combination of superb evaluation and development helped the veteran coach spark one of the most successful stretches in OSU history as the Cowboys went 50-15 from 2009-2013, including a Big 12 championship and a win over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl in 2011.
Opportunity followed with the Cowboys becoming a legit competitor for elite recruits. It was a common storyline for Gundy’s program.
“When I first got the job, we couldn’t get in the door on any of those guys,” Gundy said.
Getting in the door is just a part of the battle. OSU’s rising profile resulted in several near-misses on the recruiting trail, including missing out on Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell, who visited OSU, among other elite recruits who considered the Cowboys during the past few years before heading elsewhere.
It has forced Gundy’s program to return to the philosophy that sparked its rise in the first place. Even though they can grab the ear of elite recruits, they have rarely grabbed their signature.
“Right now it’s not to a point where there are a bunch of five-stars knocking on our door,” Gundy said.
Thus, OSU’s philosophy trended back toward the place it started, focusing on evaluation. And that’s not to say the classes have been lacking. Oklahoma State’s 2015 class featured three ESPN 300 signees including the nation’ No. 3 pocket-passer in John Kolar. The 2014 class featured eight four-star players, four of whom were in the ESPN 300.
“We would get in a little bit but we didn’t finish. So right, wrong or indifferent, we’ve gone right back to: Know your area, find out who’s out there, this is what we’re looking for to fit our system,” Gundy said. “Do they like to play football? Do they have respect for themselves, which gives them a chance to be successful? Then, do they fit what we’re looking for. Do we believe in them? If so, we’re going to go for them.”
With the knowledge he has already had plenty of success without the nation’s elite on signing day, Gundy has given up hope that the Cowboys will land a class loaded with five-star signees in the near future.
“In recruiting we’re not in the top 10 and I don’t know that we ever will be,” Gundy said. “If we continue to do well and whenever I’m finished coaching someone else comes in and goes on for 10, 12, 15 years where the program is where it is now, then you’ll start pulling some of those guys.”