So far, new head coach Brent Venables is muddling through his first crisis at OU.
As careers in college football coaching go, Cale Gundy has been extremely lucky. He works in a cutthroat profession in which nomads are the norm, but he stayed on staff at his alma mater for 23 years. He collected some hefty paychecks and received deserved credit for his contributions to the Oklahoma Sooners’ success since he became an assistant there in 1999.
It would be nice to think Gundy decided to resign from his position as receivers coach on Sunday as a way to show contrition and take accountability for bad judgment in saying a racial slur during a team meeting. For his part, it would represent a good start towards salvaging his reputation and value as a coach. On Sunday night, the statement Gundy released – notably, not released through OU – clearly tried to hit those notes. Meanwhile, an ample number of OU players, both past and present, spoke out on his behalf in the wake of the announcement.
But Gundy’s version of events in the statement didn’t make sense. He blurted out that word… from something he was reading aloud… without realizing it?
Head coach Brent Venables’ statement on Monday afternoon indicated Gundy was actually playing a game of semantics. It was true that Gundy only said one slur, but he omitted that he said that particular slur multiple times in this instance. That doesn’t sound like an honest mistake. Speaking charitably, it comes off more like horrific judgment at best.
In the light, Gundy’s statement now seems more like damage control than accountability. While the incident itself essentially made Gundy unemployable for the Sooners, his apparent inclination to soft sell the details validated that he had to go. As for his image, it might look less sullied if it didn’t seem like he was spinning the story.
As for the second major player in this story, this won’t be the only conduct issue that Venables will face as OU’s head coach. It was his first, however. And it’s hard to imagine something coming across his desk that could be thornier than an incident involving an explosive issue and a coach known as an ace recruiter. Those are high stakes.
Monday statement from head football coach Brent Venables: pic.twitter.com/grSwj3YlPC
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) August 8, 2022
Venables pointedly remarked in his second statement on the matter that Gundy “did the right thing in resigning.” Whether Gundy resigned by choice or was forced out, that’s Venables acknowledging the popular, long-tenured assistant would not have been allowed to stay on staff. Frankly, Venables simply could not let one of his lieutenants slide here, unless he didn’t care about maintaining his credibility after eight months on the job.
There’s also the reality that even though Gundy’s prowess as a recruiter was his greatest asset, staying on OU’s staff would have turned him into a major liability. Other coaching staffs would have wielded this incident against him mercilessly when battling over prospects. The fallout would almost certainly extend to Venables for any perception that he tolerated racism on the part of his assistant coaches. He really had little choice.
But the fact that Venables and OU put out two statements on the matter feels like a gaffe. Perhaps Gundy announcing his resignation on Sunday night put everyone involved on the Sooners’ end on their back feet, but adding more details in a second statement the next day gives the story more oxygen. More importantly, it gives off a whiff of nefariousness – the optics raise the possibility that people inside the program spent Monday scrambling to ensure everyone had their stories straight.
Ultimately, you could say Venables got a surprise test in crisis management over the weekend. He gets middling marks for execution.