STILLWATER â€” Mike Gundy hadn't even graduated at Oklahoma State when Pat Jones nabbed him for his Cowboys coaching staff in 1990.
â€œThere was a little bit of an â€˜it' factor with Mike from a leadership standpoint,â€ said Jones. â€œWe knew he was raised right. His work habits were excellent. His people skills were always very good and his intuition was always very good.
â€œWe moved on him really quickly.â€
What Jones saw then, others have seen since, including his peers, who voted Gundy the Big 12's Coach of the Year, released by the league office Tuesday.
Gundy took a team that lost two first-round draft picks, a three-year starter at quarterback and a large group of successful seniors â€” a team picked for the bottom of the Big 12 South â€” and constructed the school's first 10-win regular season and a share of the South title.
â€œI think it's well-deserved,â€ said Jones, now a college football analyst for Fox Sports. â€œIt's not a fluke. They had a heckuva year.â€
Gundy had just finished his playing career at OSU that fall when Jones added him to his staff. Yet well before that, going back to Midwest City High School, Gundy's leadership skills were legendary.
Ron Smith, current head coach at Bartlesville High but Gundy's offensive coordinator at Midwest City in the mid-80s, remembers the panic that nearly set in as the Bombers blew a big lead to fall behind in the final minutes of the 1985 state championship game.
Midwest City already had a four-game losing streak in title games and was on the verge of giving away another.
Except the Bombers had Gundy on their side. Never mind that he'd just thrown an interception returned for the go-ahead touchdown, coach Dick Evans was about to put the game in Gundy's hands, literally, allowing him to call his own plays â€” a responsibility rarely bestowed on prep quarterbacks.
â€œMike was mad at himself, because he made a bad read,â€ Smith said. â€œIt was really the only bad play Mike had in the entire game.
â€œHe came over to coach Evans and I could hear him talking through the headset, saying, â€˜Let me have it. We're gonna get 'em.'
â€œAnd this was a big deal, because Midwest City had lost four state championships in a row. We were winning that game and to fall behind. â€¦ Mike took us down the field.â€
â€œMike was always very, very intense about his football and our team,â€ Evans said. â€œHe was always so serious about his football, almost to the extent that it was by far the most important thing for him.
â€œOther kids that I've had, maybe football is really important, but they've also got other things going, too.â€
Gundy, Smith said, embraced the pressure moments.
â€œIn baseball, if the winning run's standing on third, you've got seven guys in the field praying to God the ball's not hit to them,â€ Smith said. â€œAnd then you've got Mike Gundy out there praying to God that the ball is hit to him.
â€œThat's the difference. And it still is.â€