Thurman Thomas wasn't crazy about his football team being handed over to a true freshman quarterback.
For one thing, Ronnie Williams, the displaced veteran, was his roommate.
“Tough situation,” said Thomas, who was in the middle of building the best tailback career in OSU history. “Not only for myself, but the team.”
But Pat Jones had seen enough of Mike Gundy in practice, and not seen enough out of Williams through three games of 1986, despite having quarterbacked the '85 Cowboys to the Gator Bowl and having made 11 straight starts.
Compared to that decision — benching a popular veteran, going with an 18-year-old who had been on campus barely a month — Gundy's decision 26 years later to go with true freshman Wes Lunt seems downright conventional.
“Yeah, a lot of players were upset,” Thomas said the other day. “Lot of older players didn't know what kind of player Mike Gundy would be.”
Soon enough, the Cowboys learned. Gundy would be fine. Just fine. Growing pains that 1986 season but solid by 1987, a star by 1988 and the Big Eight's career passing leader by 1989.
“Things happen for a reason,” Thomas said. “Gundy turned out to be one of the best.
“But it was a tough deal, no question about it. We really didn't know too much about Mike Gundy.
“We knew he was from Oklahoma. Had a very successful high school career. Being in Oklahoma (Midwest City), you heard stories about him.”
The 2012 Cowboys should know Lunt much better. He arrived on campus in January from small-town Illinois and went through spring practice. He beat out not an incumbent, but two guys (J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf) who had either never played or barely played.
So the political landscape should be smoother for Lunt than it was for Gundy 26 years ago. The football adjustment will be as severe, though.
Young quarterbacks are better prepared these days than they were a generation ago, but they also face much more sophisticated defenses while running much more complicated offenses.
OSU must be patient with Lunt. That means Gundy, the staff, teammates, fans, media, everyone.
“It might be a tough go for awhile,” Thomas said. “You go through spring ball, get to the regular season, things change. You have to prepare yourself differently.
“I'm sure there are going to be some struggles along the way. But Mike Gundy's the head coach. He probably saw some things he saw in Zac Robinson, Brandon Weeden.”
Gundy as a freshman in 1986 was not great. He was better than Williams had been. Gundy completed 52 percent of his passes (solid for 1986), with eight touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Then in 1987, Thomas detected a changed quarterback.
“We went into spring ball, I saw a different Gundy,” Thomas said. “He was kind of thrown into something (the previous September); I think he was just fitting in. His leadership my senior year (1987), that became evident to me. I said, ‘That guy could become a coach in college.'”
Interestingly enough, this spring Gundy said leadership would be his No. 1 criteria in picking a quarterback. Two months later, he selected Lunt, who had yet to even go through his high school graduation.
“Being he is a freshman, if he does go through some ups and downs, he has at least three more years to prove himself,” Thomas said. “Hopefully he can come through for 'em.”
Thomas is a believer. He's seen it happen in Stillwater before.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.