Dave Sittler of the Tulsa World raised an issue in his column yesterday that I’ve touched on before: How much more rope will Oklahoma State über-booster T. Boone Pickens give Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy?
Sittler suggests — I think correctly — that the OSU coach may be hanging by a thread. Ask Sean Sutton about Pickens’ itchy trigger finger.
Pickens’ expectations for OSU football are definitely out-of-whack, always have been. Programs that have made the kind of leap that he is asking for are few and far between. It’s not simply a matter of throwing lots of money at the problem, either, as the Cowboys lack the tradition of Oklahoma and the resources and geographic advantages of Texas, the two lead dogs in the Big 12.
If Pickens truly is sharpening the knife for Gundy, he must have forgotten what it was like in Stillwater after the NCAA dropped the hammer on the Cowboys in the 1990s. Back then, back-to-back .500 seasons were cause for celebration — Gundy has had consecutive nine-win campaigns in the last two years.
So count me firmly against the idea that Gundy “deserves” to be canned based on his performance.
And, yet, I still can’t shake the feeling that Gundy is holding the Pokes back.
Gundy’s predecessor, Les Miles, took over a dumpster fire of a program in 2001. OSU had won 13 games combined in the previous three years under Bob Simmons, whose dour public demeanor had helped kill whatever goodwill he had gained with some mild successes in the early part of his tenure.
Miles stumbled through a 4-7 debut before reeling off three straight seasons in which he averaged eight wins. Prior to that stretch, the Cowboys had finished above .500 once in 12 years.
Of course, as an Oklahoma fan, Miles’ two wins against the Sooners with undermanned squads impressed me as much as anything else he did as coach at OSU.
The Pokes elevated Gundy from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2005, and the OSU administration didn’t appear to give much thought to other candidates. Gundy walked into a situation far different from what Miles faced four years earlier. He took over a program that finally had some positive momentum, and he soon would have some sparkling new facilities courtesy of $265 million in donations from Pickens.
From the 10,000-foot view, OSU has managed to maintain Miles’ success in Gundy’s five years on the job. The Cowboys have the exact same winning percentage during that period as when Miles was the head coach and won a couple bowl games. According to the Rivals rankings, recruiting has held steady. Gundy’s reign has produced eight NFL draft picks in five years, whereas Miles put out seven in four.
|Record (Big 12)||19-21||16-16|
|NFL Draft Picks||8||7|
*Based on Rivals annual national recruiting rankings; 2005 excluded due to coaching transition.
Yet, having seen more OSU games in the last decade than I care to remember, it seems like this program has stalled.
Given where OSU was when Gundy started, it’s tough to say the Pokes have improved. Despite an extreme makeover to the Pokes’ facilities and all the attending publicity, OSU isn’t winning more games.
More importantly, under the brightest lights, Gundy’s teams routinely flop. In 10 games combined against Texas and Oklahoma under Gundy, the Pokes have yet to win. In fact, they’ve only been able to keep it within 20 points three times. In their last two bowl games, Oregon and Ole Miss have worked OSU over.
All in all, Gundy’s best win appears to be a 2008 upset of a clearly overrated Missouri squad.
To his credit, Gundy’s teams are winning the games that they should. Miles certainly tended to lay his baffling share of eggs against mediocre competition.
Still, the occasions where the Mad Hatter didn’t have his team ready to play against a superior opponent were the exception to the rule. Miles offered at least a glimmer of hope that, with a crafty coach, the Pokes could one day put together a legitimate run at a conference title.
Even if he keeps on winning games at this clip, Gundy hasn’t given any indication he’s that guy.
Maybe this is as good as it can get for the Pokes. It does make you wonder, though, where OSU would be if it had hired someone other than Gundy five years ago.
And it makes you wonder where the Cowboys could be five years from now with a different coach.