Dirk Koetter had just cut out on the Cowboys, reversing field and passing on the Oklahoma State football coaching job less than 24 hours after agreeing to take over the program.
Reeling from the rejection at a secluded location in Dallas, an OSU interview committee pondered who to turn to next, with Les Miles and Mike Gundy the leading candidates. And there was a strong contingent pushing for Gundy.
Except a prominent person in the room balked, protesting with the point that Gundy was coming off a termination with the staff at Maryland, where he'd served as an assistant to Ron Vanderlinden, and would be a “hard sell” to the OSU faithful.
The person proclaimed: “We can get them both,” referring to Miles and Gundy.
And that's just what the Cowboys did — hired them both — in a sort of package deal, with Gundy joining Miles' first staff as offensive coordinator.
In retrospect, OSU got its man.
The Oklahoman just completed a four-part series on the men — Miles, Mike Holder, Boone Pickens and now Gundy — most responsible for the Cowboys' entrance into the big boy club of college football.
And while each has played an integral individual role in the rise, they are all, too, intrinsically linked.
Think, for a moment, what might have been had Koetter kept his promise to OSU, rather than bolting Boise State for Arizona State in his switcheroo? Koetter bombed in Tempe, going just 2-19 against ranked teams and getting fired after six seasons. If Koetter comes to Stillwater, Gundy likely does not, with his career path potentially leading in other directions.
But Gundy did come with Miles, who started the turnaround by altering attitudes and instilling toughness on a roster in disarray. Had the Miles Cowboys failed, Gundy would have been washed out in the process. And Miles, don't forget, helped seize Pickens' attention with back-to-back wins over Oklahoma — good Oklahoma teams — selling some believability to the big-money booster.
Miles was the coach when Pickens made his first jaw-dropping donation, committing some $70 million to get the stadium renovation off the ground. And Miles' strong organizational and motivational skills were examples for Gundy.
Pickens, of course, made all dreams possible, with his generosity allowing the Cowboys to not only close the facilities gap unfathomably fast, but create one anew between themselves and much of the country.
Holder, always a Gundy backer, was an underrated influence behind the scenes early and has always been the key to pulling Pickens into the fold in full.
And, clearly, those early proponents for Gundy rightly recognized something to believe in. Gundy indeed has had the right stuff, perfecting a plan and navigating the Cowboys into unchartered territory for success.
And he's hardly finished yet.
The future shines securely bright, with facilities at an elite level and Gundy and a top-notch staff ratcheting up recruiting to build one of the richest and deepest rosters in the program's history.
The path to this point wasn't always clear or easy, yet is now traceable in a connect-the-dots fashion.
We've pegged the major figures who have orchestrated OSU's college football rise in status: Les Miles, Boone Pickens, Mike Holder and Mike Gundy.
But there's two other men — at least — who deserve some credit in helping pave the way — former athletic directors Terry Don Phillips and Harry Birdwell.
Phillips bravely first envisioned and championed a bolder future, urging the stadium renovation when few wanted to hear it. The man who pushed Cowboys fans to “Wear Orange” also hired the Miles-Gundy combo in 2001
Birdwell, a key fundraising force for the renovation of Gallagher-Iba Arena, took the baton from Phillips and ran with it. He spread his love for the university and its athletic teams at every chance and put OSU on a different plane with upgraded contracts for football assistant coaches. And he was on the front line in helping sell Pickens for his first “gift” to the stadium renovation.