In the splendor of OSU's newfound football status as a national power, sometimes we forget just how good the Cowboys were in the 1980s.
Not always. Not Monday night, when Pat Jones, the coach of those OSU teams, goes into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
The Mike Gundy Cowboys the last five years: 48-17. The Jones Cowboys from 1984-88: 44-15. Gundy has the Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl victory; he also has a glittering new stadium.
“The guy had his hands tied here,” said Gundy, Jones' quarterback from 1986-89. “It was extremely difficult. People talked a lot about (the success) of other sports. It's not the same with football, without the tools.”
Jones doesn't disagree. OSU was a hard job back in the '80s. Jones arrived in 1979 with Jimmy Johnson; the Cowboys were on probation and morale was down.
“He was always at the office early, then would stay late,” Gundy said of Jones. “One thing I've always remembered with him, and he said this to me as a young coach and I really didn't understand it … ‘If you go to a big city – Chicago, New York City – and in those buildings where people make a lot of money, the lights are on at 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and they don't go off at 5.' I always remember that.”
Sure, Jones says now, it was hard winning at a place where you might lose a valued assistant coach over salary and where your facilities were just average and your stadium was decrepit. Hard, but fun.
“It wasn't hard coaching (Thurman) Thomas and (Barry) Sanders and (Leslie) O'Neal and (Hart Lee) Dykes,” Jones said. “But running the program, it was always hard.
“You didn't just work for the sake of putting in time. It was all quality stuff. And I won't lie. We played pretty hard at times.
“We didn't have some of the answers they have now. We lost some quality guys (assistants) probably over $15 or $20,000. That makes it hard for a head coach. What we had to do back then was way more homemade than what they do now.”
Which is why Jones wants everyone to know that Boone Pickens wasn't the first booster to care about OSU football. Maybe he was the first booster with the means to make a huge difference, but there was passion for the Cowboys even in lean times.
“There has always been a core of people out there that have fought their (butt) off for that program,” Jones said. “Some of it legal, some of it not legal. Some of that has probably gotten lost in the shuffle, because Mr. Pickens was able to give them $165 million.”
All these years later, Jones still recalls some of the boosters who made a difference. Warren Pixley of Claremore drove over with wood from his lumber company to build new lockers. Bill Ricketts of Muskogee sent his construction workers to Stillwater to finish the second floor of OSU's football building, after the Cowboys ran out of money during the Phil Cutchen days.
“There have been guys that have fought hard,” Jones said. “Fought that baby hard. There's always been a core of people that wanted Oklahoma State to win.”
The Pickens Plan is easier. But it's no more satisfying.
“Maybe the most satisfying feeling I ever had,” Jones said, “including the NFL and all that other stuff, was probably after we had beaten South Carolina down there in the Gator Bowl that year (1984).
“We were the first (OSU team) to win 10. Then we did it again in '87 and '88, Oklahoma State had gone 83 years without having a double-digit win (season). We did pull it off three times in five years.”
Homemade and hard work.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.