Some college football offenses are known for their inventor or the coach who popularized it. Bill Yeoman and the Houston veer. Emory Bellard and the Texas wishbone. Hal Mumme and the Air Raid. Mouse Davis and the Run and Shoot.
Some college football offenses are known for their proficiency at a position. Southern Cal tailbacks, of yesteryear. Miami quarterbacks. Brigham Young quarterbacks. Stanford quarterbacks. Michigan quarterbacks — yep, Michigan. Look it up sometime.
Some college football offenses are known for their perfecter. Mike Leach’s Air Raid. Urban Meyer’s spread. Paul Johnson’s option.
But Oklahoma State’s offense is reaching the point where it’s just known as the Oklahoma State offense. Its success seems to know no barriers. Quarterbacks change. Coordinators. Heck, even styles change — the Cowboys rode high with Zac Robinson and Larry Fedora, in a system far different than what’s been run with Brandon Weeden and Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken and Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf and now Mike Yurcich.
The only constant has been Mike Gundy, and even Gundy hasn’t been a constant. First, he was a student, learning Fedora’s offense, then Gundy was the teacher, as Fedora’s successor, then Gundy was the student again, learning Holgorsen’s offense except Gundy really didn’t pretend to try to grasp the whole thing, even when Monken replaced Holgorsen, except when Monken moved on to Southern Miss last December and Gundy ran the offense in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Purdue.
“It’s been a number of years since I’ve really been involved in play calling,” Gundy said. “I have an opinion each week on what I think gives us the best chance to move the ball and score points, and then usually by Monday, I’m out of that room.
“I have a lot of confidence in the coaches on our staff and the decisions they make, and at the end of the day, they’re the ones that have to instill it in the players in meetings and get it across to them on the practice field. They have to get them to perform on Saturday. I have a lot of faith in the guys that are in that room.”
OSU’s offensive success has been remarkable. In scoring offense, the Cowboys were third nationally in 2012, second nationally in 2011, third nationally in 2010 and ninth nationally in 2008. In total offense, the Cowboys were fourth in 2012, third in 2011, third in 2010 and sixth in 2008.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had good players,” Gundy said. “We hit on quarterbacks, a couple of them that weren’t very highly recruited who had come in our system and had success. We believe in our work ethic. We believe in the way we handle our players once they walk on campus as freshmen, and we develop them into — put them in a position to have success on Saturdays in all three phases.”
Only in 2009, when Robinson was banged up much of the year, was Gundy prompted to make a change. Gundy gave up running the offense to hire Holgorsen, and his two offensive coordinator hires since have come with the command to keep Holgorsen’s system largely intact.
“We have approximately 35, 45 players or so that have played for our offense each year, each season, and when we’ve lost a coordinator to become a head coach, I felt like it was an advantage to continue to run the offense and keep our terminology,” Gundy said. “So we would bring in one new coach or two new coaches, and they would learn our system instead of 35 or 40 players trying to learn a new terminology or a new system from the outside.
“For that reason, we’ve had success. So we don’t see any reason to change. Our players have also been recruited there, and we told them that this was the offense we were going to run. We would be up tempo. We would throw the ball. We’d run play action. We’d run the football. We want to be consistent in our recruiting. So the players that are currently on our team will continue to recruit. They’ve always been the best for us, and I know that’s somewhat broad, but those are reasons for staying with the system. It’s difficult to bring a young man in that’s made a commitment to our program for certain reasons, and then a couple years later things change. It can certainly affect him. So we try to stay as consistent as possible in that area.
“It’s never perfect, but by bringing a coach in and having him adjust to Oklahoma State, we’ve had success. So we’ll continue to move in that direction.”