The Rundown: Gundy Talks Realignment, Spencer Sanders, Blue Blood Status and More

ARLINGTON, Texas — It feels like Oklahoma State’s spring sports just ended, but football season’s unofficial kickoff is already here.

Mike Gundy spoke at Day 1 of Big 12 Media Days on Wednesday in AT&T Stadium. Here is everything the Cowboys’ coach said in his on-stage news conference.

Opening statement

“As always, excited to be here. This means that we’re close to football, so we’ve got a couple weeks, but I’m excited to get back out with the team. We’ve had a great summer, guys have worked hard, like always, and it’s always fun to get back out there and see where we’re at, find out who we are and what direction we need to go.

“We’ve all had a great summer, so I’m just looking forward to getting started in a couple weeks.”

On the defense’s expectations under Derek Mason

“Well, Derek has been fantastic. It’s been a smooth transition. He’s a first-class person. He understands loyalty and hard work. He has a great relationship with the players.

“I became interested in him when I found out — well, obviously I knew about his history in being a head coach, being a coordinator, being in successful programs, and so the players have rallied around him, and the transition has been very smooth. Couldn’t be more happier.”

On how he has maintained success

“We don’t really get out of our box much at Oklahoma State. We have a culture and a philosophy and a system we believe in. We believe in being tough. We believe in being mentally and physically tough across the board. We try to put our players in situations that game days are not anything like what they’ve been through in practice.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be around some great administrative support during my career. I’ve had just a number of young men obviously that have contributed a lot and given a lot to Oklahoma State University. We have great people. Stillwater is a great place to be. It’s a comfortable place to be.

“I’m in a situation now, and when we have a new administration that’s been aboard for a year, have a new president, Dr. (Kayse) Shrum is fantastic, Chad Weiberg is the athletic director, makes it even more comfortable than ever. I’m extremely excited about our new commissioner [Brett Yormark] and what he brings to the table. I think when you put all that together and you kind of understand who you are and what direction you need to go, it allows you to stay in one place a long time.”

On being back in the building where OSU lost the Big 12 championship game and the residual effects that game had

“So like any game, when the clock expires and the other team has more points than us, it’s always difficult. The stage gets bigger, you play in New Year’s Day bowls, play in championship games. Any time you’re in that situation, you have one team that has the thrill of victory and the other team has disappointment.

“It never goes away. Still to this day at times when I wake up in the middle of the night, games such as a championship game will come across my mind, more so than even games where we had a lot of success for whatever reason. But our team is resilient, as you can see. They went in and beat a very good Notre Dame football team on the big stage, did it without our defensive coordinator. Our defensive coaches rallied together, put the pieces together at halftime and played very well in the second half, and then obviously offensively we churned out a bunch of points. We made plays at the end of the game.

“Our team is in great shape now. They’re excited about the start, as I said earlier. We’ve got seniors — we have mature players that understand the commitment and what it takes to be successful, and they’re instilling those values in our younger players.”

On what people in Stillwater think about Oklahoma’s move to the SEC a year later, what that move has done in recruiting and Bedlam’s future

“Well, the future in Bedlam is a year or two left. That’s the future of Bedlam, based on somebody else’s decision.

“Recruiting for us hasn’t really changed a lot. It’s interesting with young people now, I’m not sure — you might be able to take a poll of the top 250, 300 recruits in the country and ask them if they know — for example, you could throw out what conference is Purdue in or what conference is Wake Forest in, and I would say there’s about a 50 percent chance they might not know what the conference is. Young people live in certain worlds today, and essentially they want to know what you as a university and athletic department, as a football team and a coach can do for them. That’s what they’re interested in. Other than that, our recruiting hasn’t really changed since the conference realignment.”

On what makes the Big 12 a viable candidate to become the next super conference like the SEC and Big Ten

“I don’t think there’s any question as this moves forward that the Big 12 Conference is in tremendous position. I said this after we acquired the four teams that came in. I don’t need to go through the detail of each one of them, but if you look at the geographical television opportunities that they bring to the table, the number of viewers based on their location, the success they’ve had in football, they give us different time zones. They give us success and viewership, and ultimately that’s what it comes down to.

“This is a power struggle for long-term television money. The Big 12 is better off today than it was at this time last year. As I said earlier, I think that we have fantastic leadership. We’ve got the right people in place. I’m convinced that they’ll come up with a plan, and the Big 12 will be here to stay for a long time.”

On how OU leaving the Big 12 affects Oklahoma State’s brand

“As I said earlier, I don’t think that Oklahoma State has changed any with the alignment that started a year ago, and the fact that we have a strong brand, we have a successful winning tradition and a large number of people across the country that want to watch Oklahoma State football.

“As we’ve all talked about and we all understand, that’s the direction that college football is going. That’s where the money is. The moves that are being made are only made for the money, period. Fortunately, we have a long, long-term success at Oklahoma State in winning games in football and people wanting to watch us on TV.

“As I mentioned earlier, I’m convinced that the Big 12 will be here for a long time. Who will be in it? I’m not sure. But the brand and what we have at this point moving forward, and Oklahoma State will be a very, very marketable opportunity in the future.”

On what OSU’s 2022 team needs to do to win the Big 12

“One, you stay healthy. As always, we have to get good quarterback play. Good quarterback play is we need to give him some protection and we need to rush the ball successfully.

“Obviously we had a fantastic year on defense last year. The majority of that was we were able to put pressure on quarterbacks. We got a lot of sacks with four-man rush, allowed us to play coverage, allowed us to play a little man in the back end. We lost two fantastic college football linebackers last year. We’ve got guys that have to replace them. We like where they’re at. They just haven’t played in big games. We don’t know much about them. We have the same situation at corner. They’ve played some but haven’t been out there in big games. Special teams-wise, we’ve got everybody back. We should be better than last year. We were good last year. We should be better than last year. We have everybody back.

“We have a foundation. The team needs to make a commitment. Coaches don’t play in the games, the team does. Our responsibility is to guide them; their responsibility is to come together as a group, create an identity. It needs to be important to them. Then go play. That’s the direction we’ll take starting in a couple weeks.”

On Spencer Sanders’ development

“Well, Spencer has been fantastic for us. He has now become a magician in our offense. He knows it. He can run it fast. He understands. The middle toward the end of last year he started to make really quality decisions in a short amount of time, which is very important in quarterback play in our opinion.

“He’s tough. He’s humble. He doesn’t worry about something that he might not have. There’s times that we put him on the field and we were beat up in the offensive line. Never said a word about it. There’s times we put him out there and he was playing with true freshmen at wide receivers. Never said a word about it.

“His competitive nature, his toughness allows him to be a really good player, and we want him to relax and enjoy the season, have fun and go out and play good football.”

On Sanders’ development as a leader

“Well, some of the things I mentioned earlier is what he does to lead our team, in that when things aren’t always perfect, he competes. He fights. We ask him to run, he runs. We ask him to play fast on offense, he plays fast on offense. He has the ability to get players to rally around him because of the way that he plays.

“At times he can be vocal, and then at times he’s not vocal. But he’s a humble young man. He’s extremely competitive, and he’s tough. That gives him a chance to have success on every Saturday.”

On success in Boone Pickens Stadium

“We have a fantastic fan base. We have our Paddle People, and I’ve said this before, we have a football stadium that gives you the basketball, college basketball arena feel. The fans are right down on the field. We’re currently in a $40 million renovation on our stadium and field turf and such.

“I wouldn’t change where we’re at for anything. There’s just something special about playing on that field and in that stadium, and our players embrace it. Our fans embrace it. It continues to get better each year. The fans, the people that show up Friday mornings, Friday nights, Saturday mornings before the game. We have around 35,000 tailgaters now in Stillwater. We have a walk that our players walk through the tailgaters, and then of course on game day and the field.

“It’s a special place. It’s a perfect size and a perfect setting for college football.”

On Brennan Presley, Braylin Presley and OSU’s other skill players

“We’ve been fortunate at Oklahoma State for years to be able to find skill players that can make a play with the ball in their hands. You mentioned Presley; he’s been fantastic for us, made big plays for us. His younger brother, Braylin, is coming in. Hopefully at some point in their careers the two guys returning the kickoff will both be Presleys. We’ll see how all that falls.

“But we’ve got a number of wide receivers and running backs that should be on the field this year making plays. We were short wide receivers this year — this last year for a variety of reasons. This year and next year we’re moving in the direction we were in four or five years ago when we had about six or seven guys that could play in a game at the wideout position that you’re talking about. And during that time, three or four of those guys actually made NFL teams.

“I think that we have that talent on this team now at the wide receiver position. Some of them are so young that we don’t know yet, but they’re long, they compete, they’ll go after the ball, and they seem to be tough at this point. If they continue forward, then we’ll have some guys that can make plays on the perimeter.”

On how Oklahoma State becomes a blue blood

“Well, we all know, conference realignment, it’s kind of almost the old Karen Carpenter “We’ve only just begun” concept. I think it’s just getting started, in my opinion. For Oklahoma State football and then I would say me personally, with the administration with Dr. Shrum and Chad Weiberg, our working relationship over the last six months, which was really their second six months in their new jobs, has been fantastic. We’re all pulling the same direction.

“There’s a lot of talks and vision and plans for Oklahoma State athletics and Oklahoma State football to continue to grow, and I think that’s what we have to do. We’re all aware of the direction that college sports is going, particularly football, and we can’t sit around and watch other people grow. We have to grow it ourselves.

“The Blue Blood that I had mentioned was the direction that I would like it to be. Someday I’m not going to be the coach at Oklahoma State, I’ll just be going and watching game, and when that happens I want Oklahoma State to be in that position. It’s going to take a lot of continued hard work. It’s going to take commitment from administration at the top, Chad Weiberg, Coach Gundy and everybody else involved, donor support. There’s a lot of moving parts. But I am very comfortable and I am 100% convinced that we have the right people in place to make it happen. It’s not an easy process, but it can happen, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

On Rob Glass’ raise

“So we all know football is an expensive game. Coaches that have success, they cost a lot of money. Success generates a lot of money. It’s just — for lack of a better term, it’s kind of an ongoing vicious cycle.

But Rob Glass could very well be the single most important part of Oklahoma State football, and that’s including the head coach. I’m not with the team 11 months out of the year. I don’t have face-to-face interaction with the team. We currently have 127 young men in our off-season program, and then we’ll have 140 when we start in August. Coach Glass has interaction with them pretty much face-to-face 11 months out of the year. As coaches, assistant coaches, coordinators and head coaches, we don’t.

“He’s been with us a long time, and our players understand the culture and, for lack of a better term, the Navy SEAL concept that he has in place. It’s tough to make it through it. It’s really tough. But if you do, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“When Chad Weiberg and I were talking about the financial structure of the employees in my building, in our building, I mentioned to him that he is the most important person in our building. And Chad said, Well, then we need to make him the highest paid strength coach in the country. I said, I think a million dollars would do it. I don’t know, maybe somebody else makes a million dollars, I don’t know.

“But the point being is we wanted to show him that we were appreciative of his commitment and the success we’ve had based on him, and then we wanted other people to know that we’re committed to Oklahoma State football. From a recruiting standpoint and a loyalty standpoint, we wanted everybody to know that we’re all in. That is another piece of the question that was asked about the Blue Blood program. So when you have people in place that have been loyal that you know that are arguably the best in the business at what you do, you’ve got to keep them. You’ve got to reward them.

“I don’t want Rob Glass to come to me and ask for a raise, which he never has. I want to be able to give something to him and reward him without him coming to me so we, Chad and I, can show him we are appreciative of what you do. He’s had opportunities to go a lot of places. I mean, he can just make a couple phone calls and go be a strength coach just about anywhere he wants in the country at just about any level.

“We had a chance to show him that we appreciated him because he’s the biggest factor in the success we’ve had since I’ve been a head coach, bar none. So why shouldn’t he be rewarded for it? And that’s what took place in a conversation with Chad and I seven, eight months ago.”

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