By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
As Berry Tramel wrote on Thursday, the Bedlam football rivalry has never been healthier.
Continued success from the OU side has been matched by continued growth on the OSU side. Both fanbases are confident. Both programs are relevant. Both teams believe they can win on Saturday.
So naturally, tension among the two has gone up, on the field, between players and among the orange and crimson faithful.
But those hard feelings have never extended to the sidelines, where Mike Gundy and Bob Stoops have always maintained a friendly coaching bond through the media and outwardly to the public.
“Bob and I have always had a good relationship,” Gundy said earlier this week. “He’s always been very cordial, places that we are in the same area, he’ll come and find me and say hello. And I’ll do the same. His family, the background of his family because his dad was a coach, is even more football than ours. But we kind of come from the same breed, the same stalk, for the most part, in the way we think.”
And the mutual respect was made easier through a buffer, a common string that links the two together.
Cale Gundy, Mike’s younger brother, played at OU and has coached running backs under Bob Stoops for the past 14 seasons.
“I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done, what he’s done,” Gundy said of Stoops. “And he’s been good to Cale, really gave him a start. And Cale has obviously been good to Bob or he wouldn’t have kept him this many years.”
But regardless of mutual respect or a family connection, coaching relationships, particularly in high-level college football, are known to break down on the recruiting trail.
When coaches battle over the same recruits, they’re known to take an occasional swipe at the competitors. It’s human nature. And often, those insulting rumors float around. But not with Gundy and Stoops.
“Even in recruiting, he’s going to say whatever he needs to say and I’m gonna say whatever I need to say,” Gundy said. “But he’s never said anything that’s gotten back to me that’s been derogatory toward me or Oklahoma State and I’ve never said anything about him or OU. And I think that’s helped the two schools. Because when it comes down to it, whether you like it or not, if Oklahoma is having a good year and Oklahoma State is having a good year and we play each other, it’s better for the state.”
For four hours on Saturday, the two will battle. They’ll compete.
And knowing their egos, with the state’s bragging rights on the line, it wouldn’t be a surprise if either ran up the score in embarrassing fashion, provided a blowout dictated that possibility.
But come late Saturday night, both will likely remain cordial in their handshake and postgame comments. Because regardless of the rivalry’s continued growth, there’s still not a coaching feud at the center of it.
“The competitive nature that I have and we have is going to be tremendous against each other on Saturday,” Gundy said. “But other than that, I don’t have the same rivalry with him that maybe some of the coaches in the SEC have with each other… I don’t want to mislead you to think there’s not a competitive fire, but I just see no reason to go further than that.”