STILLWATER — Nobody tipped Mike Gundy off about new Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich this past winter. No pal in the coaching profession recommended a young, up-and-coming Division II coordinator as a potential candidate for the Cowboys' vacant spot.
That's business as usual for Gundy. He usually isn't one to take outside advice on new coaching staff hires.
“I don't know anybody that coaches up there in that league,” Gundy said with a smile during spring practice. “I don't really pay much attention to suggestions on coaching staff decisions, anyway.”
Interesting. Networking and “who you know” is often so important in any career field. Especially, one would think, in the small fraternity of college coaches. And if there was ever a year for Gundy to solicit some help on coaching hires, this would have been the one, with OSU needing to fill four vacancies on staff.
But Gundy instead opts to primarily research on his own. A recent story from CBS sports described Gundy mimicking himself glued to his computer, scanning NCAA.com for prolific offensive numbers and zeroing in on Shippensburg and, eventually, Yurcich.
Other than big-time numbers, what other qualities particularly catch Gundy's eye?
First is what Gundy calls “intellectual level.” That means an impressive base knowledge of Xs and Os already in place, plus an ability and willingness to learn and grow.
Second is a strong history of working with young players. That means someone who can offer structure and discipline, but also compassion and guidance in a world where 18-22-year-olds are under immense and immediate scrutiny.
The last quality is what Gundy regards as the most important.
“We have to hire people that are going to be very loyal to Oklahoma State,” the coach said. “And, without saying this and sounding wrong, they've got to be very loyal to me.”
Gundy also highlighted defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements' experience working under Bill Snyder at Kansas State and safeties coach Tim Duffie previously working for Jim Grobe at Wake Forest as positives. For Yurcich and new receivers coach Jason Ray, their familiarity with OSU's style of offense is what made them prime candidates.
The spring was about fusing new coaching faces with old ones. Yurcich and Glenn Spencer gave the Cowboys a new lead voice on both sides of the ball. In fact, the entire defensive staff is made up of guys who are either completely new to OSU (Clements and Duffie) or are in a new role (Spencer and Van Malone).
Spencer is pleased with how that process has gone so far.
“The hierarchy of input, suggestions versus decisions — we're all a bunch of grown men with great ideas,” he said. “That takes some acclimation and I think over 15 days in (the spring), we did that.
“You're not just hiring a guy that knows Xs and Os. Sure, that's got to be very prominent and that's got to be a slam dunk. But it's like you're bringing somebody in your family and somebody that I'm going to be in a room in for five months out of my life … so that personality needs to be good with you, and it has been. Those are good people.”
Of course, no one will really know how well this largely reworked coaching staff can teach, game plan and mesh together until the Cowboys take the field in late August.
But one of Gundy's biggest strengths as a head coach is his ability to pick out strong assistants to hire and then let them manage their position group once they arrive. His growing coaching tree — including promotions for Todd Monken (OSU offensive coordinator to Southern Miss head coach) and Doug Meacham (OSU inside receivers coach to Houston offensive coordinator) this past offseason — shows exactly that.
And it turns out Gundy finds most of those guys without recommendations from others, even in a small coaching world.