Les Miles started Oklahoma State's push to prominence, energizing the program for takeoff to the elevated status it enjoys today.
Inheriting a team short on talent and broken in spirit, Miles flipped a switch, creating pride and swagger — and wins — with the Cowboys averaging eight wins over his final three seasons, all resulting in bowl trips.
What if Miles had never left, choosing to stay in Stillwater instead of bolting for the Bayou?
And sources have always maintained that's not at all a reach, that Miles was locked in for an extension, before a final few details killed the deal, leading him to LSU.
So, what if Miles had stayed?
What would have become of the Cowboys?
Of the Tigers and their place among college football's elite as an SEC power?
Obviously, things turned out OK for OSU, with Mike Gundy taking the program into the previously unchartered territory of BCS relevance, Big 12 prominence and the greatest stretch of winning in school history.
Still, Miles was good for OSU. And he's been good for LSU, and in turn the SEC.
“He's such a positive guy,” former Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken, an assistant under Miles at OSU and LSU, said a year ago. “He would look at our team (at OSU) and I really think he believed in every game we went into, we could win. And I looked at him like he was crazy. I looked at our team sometimes like, ‘There's no damn way.'
“But in his mind, he believed in the guys and the coaches that we had assembled. Even when he went to LSU, I thought that was a big strength in the way he handled the team and he handled the coaches.”
Miles, however, wasn't as successful in handling Boone Pickens.
While in Stillwater, Miles never worked in complete accord with Pickens, who is as central to OSU's current status as any coach or administrator or player.
And without Pickens, it's hard to envision the Cowboys here, enjoying sustained success that has them picked to win the Big 12 and ranked higher than any league team in The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time ever.
So it's possible, even likely, that history served both sides well.
Miles gave LSU a strong replacement for Nick Saban, guiding the Tigers to a national championship. Gundy gave OSU a unifying force and a coach capable of upping the ante even further for Cowboys football.
And while Gundy is coming off a year that included flirtations with other schools — SEC schools Arkansas and Tennessee — through it all he remained in Stillwater.
“I've been very fortunate to be at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said. “I've said that. And I mean it.”