“That way every day we go in there, everybody has a chance,” Wickline said. “If you know you never have a chance, because the guy in front of you has got two more years … or you know you're a first-team guy and you know you're never going to get moved, then you're not going to be at your best.
“It really gets down to you better stay on your toes day-to-day, and if you do that, you'll play. And if you don't, until you're ready, you'll move someone else.”
Why does the constant game of musical chairs work? Gundy half-jokes that he doesn't have a clue. But the results are wildly positive, as OSU has produced two Big 12 Offensive Linemen of the Year under Wickline in Russell Okung and Grant Garner. His schemes and techniques have helped protect the quarterback and spring running backs for a program that has ranked in the top 10 in the nation in total offense five of the last six seasons.
And the players have embraced the strategy.
“Just sitting there for 10 minutes with him, you know that he's genius when it comes to offensive line,” Graham said.
So Wickline's pieces are always shifting, but his role on the Cowboy staff has been a rare constant for a group that has seen plenty of change during the past nine years.
Wickline has closely collaborated with Fedora, Gundy, Holgorsen, Monken and now first-year coordinator Mike Yurcich. And he's assisted as the Cowboys' offense has transformed from one that utilized a mobile quarterback to an Air Raid attack.
During the week, Wickline plays a big role in overseeing the running game with running backs coach Jemal Singleton. Pass protections are, of course, also Wickline's responsibility. And his overall wealth of knowledge has become valuable to a guy like Yurcich.
“When Coach Wick has something to say, it's going to be a useful piece of information,” Yurcich said. “You're all ears when he has something to say.”
What else makes Wickline so effective? His intense, old-school personality, which sophomore Devin Davis said cannot be appropriately described.
The coach has been known to dash through the meeting room to demonstrate proper technique or sprint from one area of the practice fields to another. And he's not afraid to be hands-on — or vocal — with his players.
That gruff style, though, helps come Saturday, Graham said.
“He's very hard on us,” he said. “He's very loud and he's very in your face. Once you get accustomed to that, getting in the game's not even a problem. The crowd's not a factor. The other team's not a factor.
“That's just straight through how he coaches and how he approaches the game. He really gets you prepared.”
All those qualities have naturally made Wickline an attractive candidate for other job opportunities that have popped up throughout the years.
But he's always considered the comfort Nicki and their two youngest children, Kelby, now 18, and Lauren, now 12, have in Stillwater. Not to mention, what's continued to develop at OSU.
“As time went on,” Wickline said, “and the system and the program and the school and what we stood for kept taking steps forward, it was just very gratifying and we felt very blessed to not have to go places.”
* * *
Wickline and his family currently make their home on 20 acres of property in the Stillwater country.
They've got horses and a batting cage and plenty of open space to ride four-wheelers. It's become a gathering spot for the offensive linemen for barbeques after the conclusion of spring practice and a “revolving door” for neighbors and friends during the summer. Stillwater is the only town Lauren has ever truly known, and a place where Nicki and the kids can get involved with church and other groups in the community.
So it's clear Wickline is pretty entrenched, both personally and professionally. He recently deconstructed his starting five — Davis at left tackle, Graham at left guard, Jake Jenkins at center, Daniel Koenig at right tackle and Brandon Webb at right guard — but then winked when noting that's just how the lineup will look on the first day of fall camp.
Gundy jokes that Wickline has gone from a guy the head coach didn't recognize when he first walked down the hall in 2005 to one now so familiar with OSU that he wouldn't even really need to attend meetings anymore.
Who knows what the future will ultimately hold for Wickline. He took a chance in the freezing Champaign weather when he jumped on Gundy's first staff and has since been a critical part of the best stretch in school history.
Right now? He's happy to continue his journey in Stillwater.
“Some guys jump at things and they do things because maybe it's another dollar or two or it's a bigger stadium,” Wickline said. “I don't know. I just kind of look at it as, ‘You know what? We have a good thing here.' We have good people here and we all stand for the right thing.
“I think that OSU people — Oklahoma people altogether — are salt-of-the-Earth people. I like the way things are done around here. Obviously, I'm fortunate to (have) Coach Gundy and the people who afforded us the opportunity to stay here and I'm very humbled.”