STILLWATER — Chris Stiles could easily overhear when former Oklahoma State coach Pat Jones turned to then-offensive coordinator Larry Coker in the locker room at halftime of the Cowboys' game against Houston in 1986 and demanded a change at quarterback.
“Coach was pretty adamant. He wanted (Mike) Gundy,” said Stiles, who was an OSU graduate assistant at the time. “He felt like Gundy was the guy, and he was right. … We needed a change to turn (the season) around.”
That was the moment when Gundy turned from likely redshirt to the Cowboys' starting quarterback as a true freshman.
Now the possibility exists that Gundy the head coach could name true freshman Wes Lunt as the Cowboys' starting quarterback for 2012, meaning it's worth looking back at Gundy's experience in that role in his first season.
Jones says it's difficult to compare the situation that led to Gundy becoming the Cowboys' starter with this spring's quarterback derby. In 1986, Gundy unseated incumbent Ronnie Williams, who had led OSU to an 8-4 season and a Gator Bowl appearance the previous season. This spring, Cowboys find themselves in a three-man quarterback competition because they lost the program's all-time leading passer in Brandon Weeden.
But the qualities needed to be a starting quarterback as a true freshman are generally consistent, regardless of the circumstances. Maturity beyond his years. Strong work ethic. Outstanding skill set, including arm strength, decision-making and leadership. A dash of swagger.
“He had a presence about him,” said Stiles, who is now the head coach at Mount St. Mary's High School in Oklahoma City. “He just had a confidence, and at that time, it was a cockiness, but in a good way. He was confident that he could get the job done.
“Once he got in there, the guys rallied around him.”
Gundy displayed all of that to Jones and the rest of the OSU staff when he first arrived on campus. Even though he was listed as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, Jones and Coker often considered letting Gundy practice with the first team. Jones thought Williams was not taking care of the ball well enough, and he believed Gundy ultimately had the most upside.
Then at halftime of the Cowboys' third game, Jones turned to the true freshman.
“It was hard,” Jones said. “It had been kind of brewing with me. I tell you, there really wasn't any easy way to do it. Ronnie had done some very impressive things with us and was very highly regarded inside the squad.
“I remember I told Mike walking up the ramp at halftime to go in there and find the center and get some snaps. I don't think he even had his knee pads and his helmet. Might not have had his ankles taped.”