When the Sports Illustrated series last September put Oklahoma State football under siege, the Cowboys’ response was effective. A professional public relations campaign. Ample media help. Strong leadership from OSU personnel. By the end of the week, SI was under as much scrutiny as was Mike Gundy’s program.
But Cowboy football this offseason has given back some of those PR gains. Its academic progress rate was sub-standard enough that OSU has been docked a day’s practice per week in the 2014 season, and freshman tailback Devon Thomas is charged with a variety of felonies in Tulsa, including shooting with intent to kill. Two big black eyes on a program that had risen to great heights in recent years.
And those black eyes are linked. Gundy and staff have not been careful enough on whom they recruit.
OSU football is not the renegade program that Sports Illustrated tried to portray. But these offseason scandals are a sign that the Cowboys could get to such status quickly if coaches are not more careful on who they bring in.
And strange as it sounds, the academic shortcomings are the biggest alarm.
Coaches can miss on the character of any individual recruit. There’s a little Father Flanagan in every football coach. Certainly OSU knew or should have known that Thomas was troubled. All kinds of stories floated around Tulsa and Broken Arrow. Since Thomas’ arrest a few weeks ago, juvenile records have been released showing Thomas was suspended four games in his junior year at Broken Arrow High School and accused of distribution of child pornography. Thomas videotaped himself having sex with a girl under the age of 18, then showed his friends.
That makes Thomas anything from a knucklehead to a degenerate. Football scholarships by the score have been given to risks like that. This time it bit the Cowboys, made more embarrassing by the fact that Thomas was committed to OU before the Sooners apparently backed off because of his behavior.
But again, coaches not only want to win, they believe in that mentorship concept. They believe they can impact the lives of wayward young men, and often they do. But sometimes they don’t. Fail often enough on the same campus, and someone else will be in Father Flanagan’s office.