Oklahoma State's Gundy questions his own hiring
Gundy, who had been the Cowboys' offensive coordinator for four seasons, was promoted the same day Les Miles was named the new coach at LSU in January 2005. Harry Birdwell, the school's athletic director at the time, said he had known Miles was leaving for about a week before the move was announced, allowing him the chance to assess candidates.
He chose Gundy.
"I'm not so sure five years ago I would have hired me now, looking back," Gundy said Monday. "Boy, you sure learn a lot in a lot of areas, and there's a lot more to learn. But patience is one of the most important things and being resilient is another area."
Gundy is 34-25 in his fifth season as head coach and has the Cowboys (7-2, 4-1 Big 12) ranked No. 17 heading into Saturday night's game against Texas Tech (6-3, 3-2). He's the first coach to guide OSU to four straight seasons with at least seven wins.
From where he is now, he has a new perspective on his rocky start - which included a 4-7 season in 2005 - and can question Birdwell's thought process in hiring him then as a 37-year-old with no experience as a head coach. Gundy had pursued the job four years earlier and ended up being hired as Miles' offensive coordinator.
"Just look back at all the mistakes that you can make as a head coach, and you think I don't know why," Gundy said. "When I was doing it - I think that we all probably are more critical of ourselves than other people - I just made a lot of mistakes, and I don't know that I would have hired me back then."
Gundy said he embarked on the job with an "I'm going to do it my way" attitude and dismissed the advice of former coaches and administrators.
"And then you realize that most of those people who had been in that situation do have a clue what's going on," Gundy said.
Gundy said he's never had a team that's had to adapt to as many curve balls as Oklahoma State has endured this season. All-America receiver Dez Bryant has missed all Big 12 play and been ruled ineligible for the rest of the season by the NCAA. Several key players, including tailback Kendall Hunter and linebacker Orie Lemon, have missed extended time with injuries. And just before the season, starting tight end Jamal Mosley left the team amid a police investigation that has not yielded charges.
Through it all, the Cowboys have the second-best record in the Big 12.
"The most difficult thing for me to handle is a situation with an Orie Lemon or a Kye Staley, these injuries to these guys that are good guys that work hard. And then you have to approach the team and reinforce that everything's OK," Gundy said. "It's hard because it's hard on me."
Gundy signed a seven-year contract extension earlier this year that would keep him at Oklahoma State through 2015. He said maturity has made him a better coach but he still hedged when asked if he'd hire himself now, choosing instead to say, "I don't have to make that decision."
Gundy might never have made it this far if not for the turn of events surrounding Texas Tech's last visit to Stillwater two years ago.
Coming off a humbling loss at Troy, Gundy stood by his decision to replace starting quarterback Bobby Reid with Zac Robinson and the Cowboys won a 49-45 thriller against the Red Raiders.
"To come back and win that way - and that was Zac playing then and kind of taking over and kind of establishing himself - that was a good win for us, no question," Gundy said. "At that time, that kind of instilled confidence in our team. We were able to kind of take off from there."
Gundy said that win, along with a couple breakthroughs on the road, have allowed Oklahoma State's program to reach the point where it is now a regular in the Top 25.
"I think that the important aspect of Oklahoma State football is the continuity we have from top to bottom, and the coaches are in place and the system, and I think that's making more of a difference than anything," Gundy said. "It's so difficult to have success when you don't have a structured plan and a base foundation in place to move forward. It's just really difficult."