NORMAN — I wrote for the Sunday newspaper about OU running backs coach Cale Gundy and the remarkable success he’s had on the recruiting trail the past several years. You can read that story here.
As is usually the case, though, there was lots of good stuff from my conversation with Gundy that didn’t make it into the story. Here is my full Q&A with Gundy:
Q: What is it about Oklahoma that these big-time running backs find so appealing?
A: The most important thing is, you’ve gotta find the right running back who wants that, who wants to be a part of something that will give them the opportunity to be possibly one of the best running backs in the country. To go to a school and have the opportunity to work for a strength staff like we have with Coach (Jerry) Schmidt, to be pushed by a guy who has put tons of players in the NFL, and to play in an offensive system that we have that’s produced a lot of good players.
Not every kid coming out of high school really, really wants that. They may say they do, but there are some of them that are willing to do what they have to do or go where they have to go to achieve those dreams.
Another thing is just the history that has been under Coach Stoops. Since Bob Stoops in 1999, no head coach has had more first-round offensive linemen draft picks in the BCS era since Bob has been here in 99. He’s had more offensive linemen drafted in the first round. Not Alabama. Not LSU. Not Ohio State. Not Texas.
So, when you have the offensive linemen like that, then you have quarterbacks. Since coach has been here, we’ve had two Heisman Trophy winners. When you have great offensive linemen and great quarterbacks, you’re gonna be successful. And running backs know that. You want to be surrounded with great talent.
Another OU assistant recently told me that “Oklahoma isn’t for everyone,” and you guys don’t seem like the type of staff that overly butters kids up during the recruiting process.
It’s a challenge to be a football player here because of how hard you’re coached, how hard you’re pushed, how hard our strength staff challenges you. Our policies when it comes to being late to class, missing a tutor, being late to a tutor, I mean everything around here. Then you add on that you’re at a place like Oklahoma where they think you should win a championship every single year.
When I watch film and I find my running backs that I know have the talent to play here, that’s just half of it. Then you’ve gotta find the character. Then you’ve gotta find out if he’s the fit you want at Oklahoma. You can be a great football player, but don’t end up at Oklahoma because you don’t have the character or don’t have the want-to and the willingness to do certain things.
I really almost try to scare players away when I recruit running backs. I tell them how hard it’s gonna be. I tell them, “There’s gonna be times when you’re gonna be mad at me. There’s gonna be times when you say, ‘God I wish I’d have never come here.’”
But at the end of the day, at the end of your career, five years from now, 10 years from now, you’ll realize it was the best decision of your life.
When you were recruiting Adrian Peterson, did you really tell him “We’ll win with or without you”?
How did he respond to that?
He loved it. Because everybody went to Adrian Peterson and put their arm around him and told him, ‘You’re gonna come here. We’re gonna win championships. You’re gonna win Heismans. You’re gonna start.’ That’s just not how we work at Oklahoma. Everybody is told the same thing. The only thing you’re guaranteed at Oklahoma is an opportunity.
That opportunity is every single day. It’s in the spring. It’s in the next season. It doesn’t matter if you’re a two-year starter, a three-year starter, it doesn’t mean you’re gonna start the next year. Everybody had their arm around him and told him how great he was, this and that, and that’s not how we approached him.
Does the fact that you guys often use a running back-by-committee approach help or hurt your recruiting?
This is a very physical sport. Even as great a running back as Adrian Peterson was, he only played one full season. He was injured two of the three seasons.
What we believe at Oklahoma with Coach Stoops and myself, is you’re gonna need two or three guys. You want those guys, especially down the stretch in the season, the eighth game, ninth, 10th, 11th, to be healthy and fresh in the third and fourth quarter. Guys get dinged up here, you’re gonna have other quality players step in.
That’s the type of player we want here. It’s not about individual awards here. If you want to win an individual award, you need to go somewhere else. It’s about winning championships here. That is our No. 1 goal, and that’s what we want when we recruit players.
Because of the new NCAA rules, you’re allowed to be around your players this summer. What’s been your impression of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine?
They are definitely very talented. Very impressive for young men who just came straight out of high school. It’s the same every year. You have all these recruiting services, and ratings and stars. None of that means anything. At the end of the day, there’s only a small amount of players who are physically or mentally ready to play college football as a true freshman. These two guys, physically, are able to play college football right now.
Now you’ve gotta get them on the field, their pass protection responsibilities, their ball security, there’s much more involved in it. Physically, weight room numbers, speed, quickness? They’re right along with the guys I’ve got here right now.