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Berry Tramel: Coaches try to help players move forward after tragedy

Move forward. That's what Texas' Mack Brown learned on the worst day of his coaching career. “Sometimes they don't every move on,” Mike Gundy said.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 28, 2011

Don't move on. Move forward.

That's what Mack Brown learned on the worst day of his coaching career. Moving on? You don't move on from death.

“Sometimes they don't ever move on,” Mike Gundy said of his players, about OSU football's darkest day in memory.

On Feb. 26, 2001, Longhorn defensive end Cole Pittman died when his truck crashed on U.S. 79 in east Texas.

On May 23, 2005, Oklahoma State defensive back Vernon Grant died in a car crash just off Interstate 45 in Dallas.

And now Bob Stoops joins the fraternity of coaches who must guide a football team in the wake of something much more tragic than the loss of a big game. On May 19, OU linebacker Austin Box died of a possible prescription drug overdose in an El Reno house.

“Losing a player is like losing a child,” Brown said a few days ago, in the wake of Box's death. “We've moved forward, but we've never moved on” from Pittman's death. “It was devastating.

“It makes you realize the responsibility you have for the well-being of every player. Since we lost Cole, we ask every player, if they leave town, to tell us when they're leaving, let us know when they get there and then when they're leaving to return and when they get back. We want to be aware of where they are at all times.”

Brown decided that Pittman would remain a part of the team.

UT kept Pittman's locker in place. No one else wore No. 44 the remainder of Pittman's eligibility. His parents were given bowl rings for the two trips Pittman would have made had he lived.

When Grant died, Gundy had been OSU's head coach less than five months. He dealt with a player's death before he coached his first game.

“It happened so fast, I hadn't been on the job long enough, I didn't understand all the ramifications,” Gundy said.

“Vernon Grant was a team leader. He was kind of what you look for in a football player. I didn't understand how important that was.”

Gundy wishes he had done some things differently for his Cowboys. More team meetings to talk about the tragedy. More chances for players to share their grief.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist and Reporter
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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