Fiesta Bowl Rundown: What Mike Gundy Said in His First News Conference in Phoenix

It’s bowl week, and the Cowboys have been in Arizona for two days.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy met with reporters via Zoom for the first time from Arizona on Monday. Here is what he had to say.

Opening Statement

“I just want to thank the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, they have been awesome. Our practice facilities are great. The Plaza where we are staying is fantastic. The hospitality, the Yellow Jackets are everywhere and it couldn’t be any better.

“Our players are excited. The coaches’ families are having a great time. It’s a terrific location, and
we’re having a great time and we’re off to a good start here in the first day and a half.”

On how much he will miss this 2021 team

“Yes, this is a special group. You guys that have followed with us all along, you know we started out the season and — I mean, I’m not on social media, but I’m going to guess people thought they would be lucky to win five or six games. We came along and they have gotten better and better.

“What is so special about this group is they are really good kids. They are quality young men that do what we ask them to do. They work hard and that’s a fun thing. It’s like raising kids. Nothing is ever perfect; but if we all work together, we listen, we learn, and we get better and better. This group, I am going to miss these guys.

“It’s been tough over the last few weeks to not have Jim Knowles here. In his own way, he’s a part of this. It’s been tough to not listen to him at a practice, complaining about what’s going on. It will be tough to let this group go.”

On the defining characteristics of this team

“I have done this so long that I evaluate our coaches and our players and our team and our organization based on everybody trying to maximize their potential and get the very most out of them.

“I have said this before: Head coaches are evaluated on wins and losses. I fully understand that head coaches have to win to keep their job. But these guys, I evaluate them on if they do what we ask them to do and if they do it to the best of their ability. That’s what they have done. It’s fun to be around people/young men that are trying to do the best that they can and improve every day.

“We practiced today for 2 hours and 20 minutes, and they are laughing. They are having fun. They are competing. They are running to the ball, so we can just sit back as coaches and make some corrections and enjoy the process. You don’t always get a group of players that are accustomed to doing that every day, and this group has now for five months.”

On if he has picked a defensive playcaller yet

“I told them I would make that decision on Thursday. I really like how our defense is practicing. I’m leaning toward making some adjustments and moving coaches from where they were on the sideline to in the box. I’m leaning toward using two coaches instead of one, in just what I’m watching in practice.

“I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do right now, but I would hate to say that it might change. I want to watch these practices really close and see how things are going with our coaches and our communication with the players, which is very important on game day.

“I’m comfortable with what’s happened. Over the last three weeks, I’ve only watched defense. I haven’t spent a lot of time watching offensive football right now, since Coach [Jim] Knowles left. I’m going to watch the next couple of days, and then sit down with the defensive staff and meet with them and explain to them what I think is best for the game.”

On what he is looking for in his defensive coaches over the next few days

“We compete offensively and defensively in live situations and practice, and I watch to see the interaction and the decision-making that takes place during those competitive practices because essentially that’s what happens on game day. They will get 75 of those in game day, and in practice we’re only getting about 21. It gives me a good feel for what’s going on.

“I have kind of alternated coaches that are up in the front, and then in the back end of the defense, and let them work together. I’m really surprised. They know it really well. I will be honest, when I first started, I wasn’t sure that anybody was quite up to par with Jim [Knowles], because essentially, this was his system. Terminology and system is a big deal.

“Now, we have morphed it into a different concept over the last couple of years, but essentially it was his to start with. I’m pleased with the other four guys in there, that they are very, very up-to-date, for lack of a better term, on what we are doing: Scheme-wise, terminology-wise, defensively in the big picture.”

On how the younger players are taking in their first bowl experience

“They are going to get spoiled at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, because when you talk about location, weather, hospitality, lodging accommodations, things to do, the environment, facilities, this is a really special bowl. The majority of the players are kind of in awe with the way that we get treated here.

“There’s 125 Yellow Jackets, or the volunteers, that are here all the time helping with us. We can’t go anywhere without them being right there asking: What can we do for you?

“It’s a little bit of an unrealistic expectation of what it’s like at this bowl. Collin and those guys and a number of those first-year players to go to a bowl, they are in awe of how nice this is here in Scottsdale.”

On if the Fiesta Bowl will be an audition for whichever coach calls defensive plays

“You know, it could be, I hate to use the word “audition” for them. My job is to be as fair as possible to everybody involved, but I also have the ultimate responsibility of doing whatever is best for Oklahoma State football. That’s why I have used the last three weeks to take all of this in.

“As I said earlier, I have been very impressed with the guys in that room. I feel really good about saying on Thursday: These are the two guys that I want to call plays. I want to watch, and I want to listen on the sideline as I do during games, and see how things go but, I also want them to be in a relaxed environment where they can just call a game and not be concerned about an audition. I want them to just enjoy the moment.

“Our defense is going to play good. Ultimately, the players play and the coaches don’t really have
much to do on game day, so that’s the advantage we have at this time without Coach [Jim] Knowles
being here, is the same guys will be on the field.”

On Danny Godlevske and the health of the team

“Well, Danny is not going to be able to play in this game. We could have pushed him to a point, but I don’t think it would be fair to him to put him out there at this time. But otherwise, from a health standpoint, we’re in good shape.”

On playing in a dome

“When we practice, about 25% of our practice is with music blaring, really loud music. It gives us a good simulation of what it’s like to be in a noisy environment and also in a dome.

“We have played in several domes over the last six to eight years in bowl games. What you are saying is correct. You know, it’s interesting in these domes. I watched the Cardinals play the Colts the other night, and it was loud for both teams, not just the Colts but also for the Cardinals. We do the best we can with music in practice that’s extremely loud to try to simulate what it could be in a dome.”

On what kind of health precautions the team is taking

“The ultimate. We want to play this game. We are going to play this game, unless we can’t find 11 players. We are masked up in meetings. We are masked on buses. Our team meetings are outside. They are not in the facility. We moved them out to the tennis courts to spread everybody out.

“We’re doing the best we can. Up to this point, we have been very fortunate. Our medical staff has given us good information. Our players understand the importance of trying to be as cautious as possible.

“But also, we’re at an unbelievable bowl site, as you know. Guys are going to go to the Phoenix Suns game tonight and they are going to wear masks and wear masks on the bus. Are some players going to get the virus? They probably are. We have had just a few that have gotten it over the last few days. I’m just — as you watch and just try to gauge percentages, I would guess there’s going to be a few more who will get it.

“But we are 100% fully committed to playing this game. We want nothing more than to be as healthy as possible and to play this game, but we also want to be able to enjoy Scottsdale and we want to be able to enjoy the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. We are back to full protocol, which is what we had last year. So far we have been fortunate. We have had good practices, and the large majority of us have been healthy.”

On playing Notre Dame

“I think there’s five helmet logos that stand out to all of us in college football. I will just say Notre Dame is one of them. I really don’t want to get into the other four, because I don’t want to get people comparing one way or the other. I think most of us that have followed college football for a long time would say that Notre Dame’s helmet is going to stand out across the country.

“The thing that I was referring to is Oklahoma State’s logo now is marketable and popular from coast-to-coast. We’ve had tremendous success for a long time here and we have been fortunate enough to play and go toe-to-toe with top five, top ten teams for a number of years now. So, we have a marketable logo.

“I have all the respect in the world for Notre Dame’s helmet. I’m good with all that but, I think people respect Oklahoma State’s logo and, our players, they want people to respect that. That’s why I was really excited about playing this game. As I mentioned, several years ago, when Coach [Mike] Holder was the AD, he and I tried to schedule Notre Dame and we didn’t have any luck.

“They are scheduled so far in advance, but we wanted to try to play a home-at-home with them because we thought it would be good for Oklahoma State to play Notre Dame. So, it worked out for us. It’s fortunate.

“This is a really good football team. I think they deserve to be ranked fifth in the country, and I understand their helmet and their logo. But, we’re very proud of Oklahoma State’s logo and we’re looking forward to competing in the game.”

On whether Tanner McCalister and Jayden Jernigan are available despite being in the transfer portal

“Oh, yeah, they are here with us. They have practiced with us. Both those guys practiced great, and they will be playing with us in the bowl game.

“I mentioned to you guys maybe three weeks ago that we hadn’t had really anybody in the portal. I said before it’s all said and done, you are going to have three or four players. Sometimes you are going to have players that want to go somewhere and be a full-time starter and play majority of the time.

“Defensively, we rotate a lot of guys. JJ (Jayden Jernigan) and [Tanner] McCalister, they might leave, they might not. I think it’s kind of a sign of the times. They put themselves out there to see what’s out there and if there’s something they think is better, they might take it. If not, they might come back.”

On his team’s testing protocols

“The last test we had was before we left and here, if we have symptoms, then we immediately bring them in and test them and we deal with it from that point moving forward.”

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