STILLWATER – Oklahoma State is a university fan base that, moreso than most, reveres successful coaches.
Henry Iba, the father of OSU athletics, was known as Mr. Iba most of his 36 seasons coaching Cowboy basketball, and not because he looked old even before he was and won NCAA championships. More than anyone else, Iba was responsible for OSU's admission into the Big Eight Conference.
Then Eddie Sutton rejuvenated basketball at his alma mater and became a father figure to everyone in OSU orange.
OSU's first wrestling coach, Ed Gallagher, was so exalted that in 1939 his name was placed on the school's year-old coliseum, which had been dubbed the “Madison Square Garden of the Plains” but became Gallagher Hall. And most every wrestling coach since, from Art Griffith to Myron Roderick to John Smith, was homegrown, ultra-successful and much-loved.
And now OSU has found the same in the sport that drives collegiate athletics. The Cowboys have a football coach who has reached iconic status.
Mike Gundy, OSU class of 1990, coached the Cowboys to the Big 12 title last season and a stirring Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. And his popularity figures to trump anyone's who coached in what is now known as Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“Eddie won when we had nothing,” said OSU fan Brad Cromwell of Yukon. “We all were closet football fans. Didn't have much to cheer on. What Mike has done is mind-boggling.”
Twenty-three victories in the last two seasons, which trails only LSU, Boise State and TCU (24 each). Consecutive seasons setting a school record for wins (11 in 2010, 12 in 2011). OSU's first outright conference title in school history.
“He's a very popular coach,” said OSU athletic director Mike Holder, a decent Cowboy coach himself, having taken State to eight NCAA golf titles. “I wouldn't know how to rank him. I would think he'd have to be one of the most popular coaches ever.
“Well-earned. When you take us places we've never gone before. When you add he's one of the outstanding players we've ever had, got a degree from Oklahoma State, it doesn't get any better.”
No doubt about that. Gundy's playing career at OSU was quite memorable. The all-time leading passer in Big Eight history, quarterback of two straight 10-win seasons. Now Gundy has recruited himself off the pedestal of greatest Cowboy QB ever (welcome aboard, Brandon Weeden) and has delivered OSU its greatest season ever.
“Mike Gundy is truly one of us,” said OSU graduate Cory Clark of Stillwater. “I think it is one thing to have an alumni as a coach and that is great, but it is another to have an alumni as a coach that can do what Mike Gundy has done plus at such a young age.”
Gundy is 45; fresh off a contract negotiation that resulted in an eight-year deal worth $30.3 million, he figures to be in the OSU saddle for years to come.
Already, Gundy is just three victories shy of matching Pat Jones' OSU record. Gundy is 59-30 in seven seasons. Jones was 62-60-3 in 11 seasons.
The Cowboys lost Jimmy Johnson to Miami U. and Les Miles to LSU. But now the OSU job is much better than it was in those days, thanks to Boone Pickens. Gundy's being paid handsomely, he has the tools to win big and he's doing just that. For an adoring fan base.
“I think he's fabulous,” said Cromwell. “I like his honesty. I like his confidence. I like his passion. I have so much confidence in his coaching staff. Early on, he kept losing coordinators, and every time he'd replace ‘em with someone better.”
MIKE GUNDY'S CAMPAIGN SLOGANS
At least three notable Presidential campaign slogans can be tweaked to fit OSU coach Mike Gundy:
“I still like Mike”
After Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential race with an “I like Ike” slogan, there seemed little reason to change it much in 1956. Same with Mike Gundy, who already was popular but now has coached OSU to its greatest football season ever.
“I'm just wild about Gundy”
In 1948, Harry Truman's slogan “I'm just wild about Harry” was catchy and produced perhaps the greatest White House upset ever, but it almost didn't work. The Chicago Tribune famously printed the headline, “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Just as anyone at the Fiesta Bowl last January who didn't stick it out to the very end might have thought Stanford the winner.
“Happy Days Are Here”
Franklin Roosevelt rode the slogan “Happy Days Are Here Again” to victory in 1932, and he won the White House three more times. But Gundy has to drop the “again,” since these happy days of OSU football never before have been experienced.
MIKE GUNDY'S ENDORSEMENTS
* ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham: "Mike's really savvy. He gets it on a broad scale. A lot of coaches that ascend to that seat, all of them come from usually offense or defense specifically, and guys can kind of be micromanagers. I think on the global scale of being a head coach from the CEO perspective, Mike gets it.”
* Illinois coach Tim Beckman, OSU's defensive coordinator 2007-08: “Mike Gundy is a player's coach. If you look at a program, recruiting-wise, that has gone from where we are to the top 5, it's Oklahoma State.”