STILLWATER — Picture Mike Gundy calling the hogs — woo pig sooie! — leading Arkansas into SEC battles with LSU and Alabama and Georgia.
Could have happened.
And who could argue the Razorbacks wouldn't be better for it?
Alas, the dominoes fell another way.
Oklahoma State's way.
Gundy scrambled for work in March of 1996. And again in 2000. Each time, he was fired as part of complete staff washouts.
That's how the coaching profession rolls. One domino tumbles, then another, and soon what seems like a random chain of events crashes at the front door, delivering disappointment.
Gundy experienced it all in the early winter of 2000, before eventually finding his way back to OSU; and ultimately here, tied with Pat Jones for the most coaching wins in program history at 62. Gundy could stand alone at the top as soon as Saturday, with Iowa State heading to Stillwater for Homecoming.
In truth, it was never inevitable.
Remember, Dirk Koetter stood as OSU's coach for about 24 hours in December of 2000, the first choice to replace Bob Simmons. The introductory press conference was being organized. Suddenly, however, Koetter reconsidered, balking at the move and clearing the way for Les Miles to be hired, with one condition — Gundy would be his offensive coordinator.
What if Koetter hadn't cut out on his commitment to the Cowboys?
“Well, I would have gone to Arkansas and worked for (Houston) Nutt, because that's where I was going,” Gundy said this week.
And like he did with Miles, Gundy might have succeeded Nutt and charmed the folks of Fayetteville and slayed the beasts of the BCS.
“You never know what will happen,” Gundy said.
What did happen, Gundy joined Miles at OSU — after being a candidate for the head coaching job himself in 2000 — helped pave a rebuild, then ascended to his New York Yankees job as the natural replacement when Miles bolted for LSU.
Since then, Gundy has won like no one before him, not even Jones, with record regular-season win totals and a Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl win.
He's had help, with Boone Pickens' massive gift used to transform facilities and perceptions and aid recruiting, leading to better players and bigger win totals.
But it's taken Gundy's touch, too.
By emphasizing the player experience in every way — from shorter practices, to limited hitting, to a fun offense, to bigger beds and better food to his “do the Gundy” dance moves — Gundy is attracting higher-profile players.
And he and his staff are coaching them up.
“Make it where kids want to be a part of the program and be around, not make it such a grind,” said OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who coached with Gundy on Miles' staff and returned a year ago.
“I think we're heading that direction in this business, getting out of the ‘because I said so' mentality. We're just trying to keep it fresh and exciting where they want to learn.”
If so, Gundy is helping lead the charge, utilizing some out-of-the-box philosophies that draw scoffs from some traditionalist coaches, including Jones, who recruited Gundy, installed him as a true freshman quarterback and later gave him his first coaching job just months after throwing his last pass as a Cowboy.
Bill Young more than qualifies as old-school, in his fifth decade of coaching as OSU's defensive coordinator at age 66. But Young sees the benefits of Gundy's player-friendly ways.
“Coach's attitude toward players, the chemistry of our coaches and the chemistry of our football team, I'm not sure could be any better,” Young said. “I just think it's a great situation right now.”
It's been a work in progress.
Gundy's first season, 2005, produced a rough ride. The Cowboys finished 4-7, winning but one Big 12 game. But that has been the only blip, with his subsequent teams gradually gaining in the win column, reaching a record 12 victories last season, when Gundy was named National Coach of the Year by three organizations.
Entering this season, Gundy's teams accumulated 41 of his 62 victories since the start of 2008.
Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Jonathan Rush has been around for Gundy's winningest seasons. He said he'd be pleased to help push Gundy over the top.
“It gives me goose bumps thinking about it,” Rush said. “And especially for it to be on Homecoming, I guess that makes it pretty special. Regardless, I'm just happy for him and everything that he's achieved in his time here. And I'm proud of him.
“I feel sorry for any coach who comes to OSU after him, because he's done it so young and he'll probably be here for a lot longer to jack up those numbers.”
Only in his eighth season, Gundy could indeed extend the wins record to an impressive total, although he insists he's not keeping track of his own victory mark, but his team's.
“I don't think a lot about it. I really don't,” Gundy said. “My first concern is making sure that our team's functioning the way it should, that attitude's good, that the people that come to watch them play are proud of the effort and the way they perform and they continue to get better each day and each game.
“That's really my concern. Anything else that comes with it, I think we share as a staff and as a team. And I really feel that way.
“And I talked to Coach (Jones) about that and I think he understands the way I feel. It's almost like that I'm just kind of carrying on what he started.”
OSU's top coaches
Mike Gundy is 62-32 as the OSU head coach, which matches Pat Jones' Cowboy wins record. Outside of Gundy, the top five OSU coaches in wins:
1. Pat Jones, 1984-94, 62-60-3: The most wins, the most losses and tied for the most seasons (11) in OSU history.
2. Jim Lookabaugh, 1939-49, 58-41-6: Coached OSU to its only major bowl trips before the Fiesta Bowl last season.
3. Cliff Speegle, 1955-62, 36-42-3: Coached OSU to 1958 Delta Bowl, only postseason game for the Cowboys between 1949 and 1974.
4. Jim Stanley, 1973-78, 35-31-2: 1976 Big Eight tri-championship was OSU's only league title before 2011.
5. Pappy Waldorf, 1929-33, 34-10-7: Big-time winner at Kansas State (1934 Big Eight title), Northwestern and California who got his head-coaching start at OSU.
By Berry Tramel