It’s easy to see why Oklahoma State football faithful are enamoured with Mike Gundy.
The longtime OSU football coach has turned the program around and made it a formidable force.
He’s turned in a 129-64 (.668 percent) record the past 15 years, staying above .500 every season after his first in 2005. He’s also won at least nine games in eight of his 15 seasons.
That consistent success has brought a bright light to Stillwater and the OSU program. And he’s any ordinary coach either. Gundy played and starred as a quarterback for OSU back in the 1980s — setting records and taking the Cowboys to a pair of 10-2 seasons.
It’s a true hometown story.
But even with all that success, fans want Gundy to take that next step and push this program further along. OSU, under Gundy, is routinely considered a program that’s “good, not great.”
Fans want that leap to great to be taken. And it’s no coincidence the chants are growing ever so loud this season.
With wide receiver Tylan Wallace and running back Chuba Hubbard returning for one more year, all but one starter on defense returning and quarterback Spencer Sanders expected to take a step forward, this roster has an eerily similar feel to that 2011 team that was inches from making it to a national championship contest.
Which brings up one simple but important question: is the hype real?
“Well, I believe they’re very talented. I don’t know the personnel as well as I did when I was on staff, obviously,” former OSU assistant coach Joe DeForest told the O’Colly. “According to the film I’ve watched on them and the tape, I think they got a very talented group. And I think they got a great coaching staff in place to make a run.”
DeForest, who was the associate head coach at OSU during that 2011 run, held that job title from 2005-2011 after spending the four years prior as an assistant at OSU. DeForest is currently North Carolina State’s safeties coach.
As a whole, DeForest has spent a little over a decade with Gundy, which gives him insight into what Gundy is all about.
“Mike’s got a special personality, as we all know,” DeForest said. “I think the kids feed off of Mike and he feeds off the kids. He stays young and he stays in the kids’ view of a young guy who likes to dance and likes to have a mullet and all those things. I think that’s part of Mike’s big success. It’s his relatability to the kids.
“That’s why he can recruit, and that’s why he can get the players there. And I think the players enjoy playing for him.”
That type of personality meshes well with the small-town persona of Stillwater. And frankly, Stillwater is a tough place to recruit.
But talent keeps coming through the doors, and DeForest circled the reasoning for that back to the “I’m a man, I’m 40” rant.
“When that happened, he endeared every single parent, every single mother to Mike Gundy and how he takes care of his own,” DeForest. “I think that was a critical time in Mike Gundy’s career and in the Oklahoma State program’s history. I know it sounds silly, but it was a big part of people recognizing him as a player’s coach who takes care of his own.”
As a young coach, that was the event that pushed Gundy toward the national spotlight. But more importantly, it showed people who he was.
DeForest, who’s gotten to know Gundy well, said that public perception of a coach — who takes care of his players — is an accurate portrayal of who Gundy is.
And for the most part, it’s resulted in winning seasons. But still the worries continue to grow louder by the day. Fans continue to expect more out of their head coach. And many point to the lack of recruiting as a reason for Gundy failing to take that next step.
But should that be a concern?
“There’s a combination of recruiting and developing players,” DeForest said. “There’s a percentage of players that I don’t think stars mean anything, and I don’t think fans should worry about the stars. It’s all about developmental players. We’ve had some big-name guys come through there in Dez Bryant and Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon.
“We’ve had great players come through there. I think the credit goes to him and his staff for developing the players that are so-called two and three stars.”
Gundy has done a tremendous job finding diamonds in the rough, making a mockery out of the star system.
Just on this current roster, All-Big 12 safety Kolby Harvell-Peel, All-Big 12 linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga and Hubbard, an All-American running back, were all three-star prospects out of high school.
Gundy has done an excellent job recruiting and developing talent, but still he’s taken heat for his 2-13 record against Oklahoma, lack of Big 12 titles and so on.
Which begs the ultimate question — is there pressure on Gundy to reach the College Football Playoffs this season?
“That’s a question for Mike Holder,” DeForest said. “Everybody wants to get to the College Football Playoffs. Unfortunately, there’s only four of them to get there out of 130. I think he’s got a nice program there at Oklahoma State, he’s got opportunities there to win a championship. He’s done a good job of competing for them every year.
“Mike Gundy has made that program into what it is today. We have never had that kind of prolonged success that he’s had.”