Before the man, the myth and The Mullet himself became synonymous with luscious locks and Oklahoma State football, Mike Gundy — who at 55 years old has spent more than half his life either coaching or playing for the Cowboys — was once a highly decorated quarterback prospect with plans to play in Norman at OU for legendary coach Barry Switzer.
Gundy, as the story (obviously) goes, reneged on that commitment, with a late change of heart leading him to OSU. But why did he change his commitment? What led to that life-altering decision? And what was it like during that rollercoaster time telling Barry Switzer that he was going elsewhere?
Gundy talked about that and a lot more in a sprawling conversation with Kevin Klintworth for OSU Max which published on Monday. Highlights of their conversation are below. You can find the podcast form here or get the video form (and a less condensed version) on OSU’s streaming service, OSU Max.
• “I was worried about what my mom and dad would say [about decommitting from OU and considering going to OSU instead],” said Gundy. “Back then you just didn’t do stuff like that. … So I said [to then head coach at OSU, Pat Jones] ‘well let me talk to my mom and dad, whatever.’ ‘Ah, come on up, just eat some food,’ you know, Coach Jones is talking fast. They hadn’t even offered me a scholarship.”
• Gundy on OSU’s first win as head coach vs. Montana State: “We thought we would be in much better physical condition than them. We were pretty average, I found out after that day. First drive went right down the field and scored. I thought ‘this is great.’ I think that’s the last touchdown we scored. I learned a lot about not overestimating who we were as a team.”
• Gundy on the taking over after Les Miles: “When I first thought I might be the head coach, it was two or three days before we played the bowl game against Ohio State, when there was talk about Les leaving. But there still wasn’t a guarantee I was going to get the job. When we got back it happened really fast. I didn’t have much prep time. I started to write some things down that I thought I should do. I knew I needed to find at least one coach to stay with me so I would have some help. I was able to keep Joe DeForest. And then he and I worked hard together for a couple weeks to keep the recruiting intact.”
• Things I did not know for $5,000, Alex: Gundy’s father was a scholarship player at OSU! “Coach Iba signed [my dad] to play basketball [at OSU]. Came in here and played basketball. Spent too much time playing pool, drinking beer and building racecars. Went to Conners, went to Cameron, played football at several small schools.”
• “After football I went through all the spring scrimmages and such [for baseball at OSU]. But I was behind Monty Farriss (legend) and Robin Ventura (legend). I was a shortshop/third base guy. Well I’m not cracking into that lineup as a true freshman. When spring ball started, I was going to be a utility guy. So Coach [Pat] Jones told me to come back and go through spring since I wasn’t starting [for the baseball team]. So I came back [to football] and never went back. That was one of the things that I regretted most, was not going back. I never went back over there. I wish I would have but never did.”
• “I started wrestling at age 4 up until age 16,” says Gundy. He adds why he likes recruiting wrestlers for football: “The toughness. When they’re on the mat, it’s just you. There’s no finger-pointing. You learn you have to pull weight. Control your weight. Fierce competitors. We trained in facilities that were 85 degrees. It’s not a normal process for a human. Wrestling instilled a toughness in me that allowed me to play college football. I wasn’t very big. When I came to college I was 6-foot, and I weighed 167 pounds. And I played that year. Next year I was 190. The only reason I was able to play at this level was wrestling. I was able to ignore pain. Wrestling is such a disciplined sport.”
• “The week after the state championship, OU offered. My senior year they won the national championship with Jamelle Holloway running the wishbone. He was a freshman. OU offered me. I went down for a visit, and I committed to them. If Barry Switzer offered you back then, you committed. That was the way it was. I didn’t know anything else. I was committed to them for a couple weeks. Then Coach Jones and Coach Campbell [the DC] pulled up in a corvette as I was walking across to baseball. Couple buddies with me heading to practice. He said ‘why don’t you come in and visit?’ I was already committed to Oklahoma. If you were committed back then, it was different. I said ‘well, I’m not sure, coach.’ I was worried about what my mom and dad would say. I told them I should probably go up there and look around, because Holloway is a true freshman [at OU].” He surmised that starting at OU early in his career would be difficult because of Holloway’s early success with the Sooners.
• On why he considered OSU despite being committed to OU: “They were running a more pro-style offense. I left my visit, went back home, told my mom and dad maybe I should go to Oklahoma State. Their style of offense gives me a chance. The gal I am married to now I was dating when this took place in high school. I got back, my phone rings, my mom said Kristen was on the phone. I hadn’t talked to her in three days. She calls and says Coach Switzer has been calling her house and talking to her about Oklahoma. She was already pre-enrolled to come to OSU. He had ways of finding that out. He started calling her and recruiting her to OU.”
• Gundy on turning down OU: “I decided I wanted to go to Oklahoma State. My mom and dad said ‘that’s fine, but you gotta call Switzer.’ I’m 18 years old, and I gotta call the guy who can do no wrong and probably the most powerful guy in the state, and tell him no, which nobody did. I finally got enough guts to call him, and when I did — my mom cried because I wasn’t going to Oklahoma — I called and told him. He wasn’t happy. He didn’t hide not being happy. I think they wanted me, but he didn’t need me. They signed Charles Thompson. Charles ran circles around me, was a magician running wishbone. It’s a long journey.”