Feb. 14, 2005
By Dennis Dodd
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Tell Dennis your opinion!

STILLWATER, Okla. -- This is what a couple of victories over Oklahoma will get you ...

Interest from a millionaire donor.
Interest in your coach.
Interest in getting better?
Oklahoma State is in the business of answering that question -- again. It's a common one in Stillwater, where rookie Mike Gundy is the fourth coach since crippling NCAA sanctions tore OSU football apart in 1988.

QB Donovan Woods will have the spotlight next year. (Getty Images)
Its perpetual starting point is being the other program in the state, seldom dealing from a position of strength. On its own campus, Eddie Sutton consistently fields a top 10 basketball program. OSU football constantly fights for recruits, attention and victories against that national power 90 minutes down the road.

Ah, that's where the Cowboys can claim some progress. Quick, name the only school to beat Oklahoma more than once since the beginning of the 2000 season.

Yep, Oklahoma State, which has won two of the past four meetings and five of the past 10.

"Our staff, in my honest opinion, does a great job of game-planning them," said Gundy, who ascended from offensive coordinator to replace Les Miles on Jan. 3. "We challenge them. We go after them. Some teams go out there and say, 'Let's get this over with.' Our players go right after them."

Sooners everywhere have about eight months to let those words soak in. Until then, I-A's youngest coach (Gundy is 37) is brash enough to keep crowing. Miles wasn't shy about the subject while leading the program out of a decade-long malaise before departing for LSU. While his record wasn't spectacular (28-21), his organizational skills and game-planning were outstanding.

Ask Oklahoma. A going-nowhere Cowboys team beat the No. 4 Sooners in Norman 16-13 in 2001, Miles' first season. They did it again the next year, winning 38-28 against a team ranked No. 3.

Based largely on those two results, LSU swept in and hired Miles, the only coach to guide Oklahoma State to three consecutive bowls. Also based on those victories, Oklahoma State quickly replaced him with Gundy. Millionaire T. Boone Pickens was already on board, having given a combined $200 million to the school and athletic department.

Mike Gundy file
A brief history of Oklahoma State's new coach:
Birthdate: Aug. 12, 1967 (youngest I-A coach)
Wife: Kristen
Children: Gavin, Gunnar, Gage
School: Oklahoma State
Playing experience: Four-year starter at quarterback, 1986-89; still holds school career passing record (7,997 yards)
Coaching experience: assistant Oklahoma State, 1990-1995; Baylor, 1996; Maryland, 1997-2000; Oklahoma State, 2001-2004; head coach, Oklahoma State, 2005-
It's hard to imagine a time when Oklahoma State has been more committed to football. It's also hard to imagine a school in a more difficult (and unique) situation.

It's recruiting against a national power/bitter rival in its own state. All while competing against that bitter rival in arguably the toughest division (Big 12 South).

Texas will most likely start the 2005 season in the top five. Texas A&M has rebounded nicely under Dennis Franchione and recently landed a top 10 recruiting class. Texas Tech has gone to five consecutive bowls under Mike Leach.

"There's not a stronger division than the one we're in," Gundy said.

For 10 days in January, Gundy had one assistant on the road during the heart of recruiting season.

"Send me some compadres," Gundy said, recalling special teams coach Joe DeForest's pleas over the phone. "I'm bombed out here."

Gundy rallied in hiring a staff, but the recruiting class was solid, not great.

LSU had moved quickly to replace Nick Saban, snatching up Miles, whose potential was better than his record. Coaching with the equivalent of one arm tied behind his back, Miles pulled off two of the biggest upsets of the decade.

Last year's Oklahoma loss came within a missed field goal of going into overtime.

"Les did a great job of establishing an attitude that we're not going to take a back seat to anyone," Gundy said. "I think they've accepted it in the last couple of years. They've looked at us as a quality opponent."

Being the youngest head coach in I-A is a relative term. Gundy is younger than Pat Jones, who was only 36 when he replaced Jimmy Johnson in 1984. In a 15-year career, Gundy has been at three schools. That's more experience than Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops had when they took over at Oklahoma.

He is confident enough to be more like Bobby Bowden, an elderly caretaker, than a young buck.

"I don't want to get into the play-calling because I don't think I can spend enough time in that meeting to do a good job of it," he said. "I want to be able to coach the attitude of the team, motivate."

When Miles took the LSU job on a Saturday, there was no question who would replace him. The first thing Miles did was drive over to the house of his assistant head coach with the news. Gundy was contacted by administration later in the day and was hired two days later.

The stark scenery is no surprise to the new coach. Gundy was born in the Oklahoma City suburb of Midwest City. There are a handful of Division I-A college towns that wouldn't challenge a distance runner. Pullman, Wash., Manhattan, Kan., Auburn, Ala. You could run a lap around each without breaking a sweat.

Stillwater is in the club. Try the calf fry in April and zucchini festival in June.

Over the years, the school has become Tailback U. Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Earnest Anderson and Terry Miller played here. Gundy just lost his hoss -- tailback Vernand Morency -- who departed early for the draft.

Even with Morency, Gundy was going to be a gambler, pass more. Because of a defense that blew a two-touchdown lead to the Sooners and a 28-point lead at Texas, that's the way things might have to be.

He was one-third of The Triplets in 1988. Gundy, Sanders and Hart Lee Dykes combined to form one of the most potent offenses of the past 20 years. The Cowboys averaged 43.5 points and 515 yards per game that year and won 10. Sanders won the Heisman. Gundy is still is the school's career passing leader.

And even at his tender coaching age, Gundy is far less a candidate to use Oklahoma State as a steppingstone job. He is the first alum to coach the football team in 66 years. Miles became the first coach in the school's history to get to three consecutive bowl games. Gundy watched while Miles helped wipe the second-class citizen label from the players' minds.

"Our players in the last couple of years here have developed an attitude where they think they can win every game they play," Gundy said. "The last 25-30 years, OSU has been a roller coaster. Three, four good years, three, four bad years. We want to stay consistent."

That's where Pickens comes in. Pickens, 76, is the founder of the largest independent oil and natural gas producer in the country. In the twilight of his years, he has decided to keep Oklahoma State competitive with his checkbook.

That has translated to a $70 million gift to the athletic department. Formerly decrepit Lewis Field has been updated, renovated and renamed -- Boone Pickens Stadium.

"We're lucky now we've got a guy like Boone Pickens," Gundy said. "We're getting ready to take the next step."

That's code for money. When the stadium improvements are done, Pickens Stadium is going to be a classy, throwback crib with club seats, suites and a capacity of 60,000, or about 20,000 more seats than people in Stillwater.

Gundy successfully lobbied for multiyear contracts (three years) for his assistants. That's almost unheard of in college football, where most assistants are on one-year deals.

"In our game you're only a few games, a few injuries away from getting fired," he said. "It's always the head coach with the multiyear deal. If he was fired, they had to write him a check for a couple of million dollars. What about the guys who have six months left at $25,000?"

Miles came in four years ago and donated a portion of his $700,000 salary to his assistants. Gundy, a veteran assistant by now, was inspired. He has been on two staffs that have been fired -- Maryland and Baylor.

"My wife wasn't too fired up about this profession," Gundy said after the Baylor staff was blown out after the 1996 season. "I just moved down there, changed her female doctor, made her have the baby down there, built a new house and told her, 'Guess what, we don't have a job.'"

Eight years later Gundy has his dream job. Thanks to patience, planning and Pickens.