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Guerin Emig: Mike Gundy and Thurman Thomas should sit down, crack open a beer and have a long, therapeutic talk

Guerin Emig: Mike Gundy and Thurman Thomas should sit down, crack open a beer and have a long, therapeutic talk

092320-tul-spt-emigcolumn Thomas

Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas (left) runs with the ball as Oklahoma’s Richard Reed pursues him on Nov. 24, 1984. Thomas, OSU’s all-time leading rusher, returns to Stillwater this weekend as the first Cowboy recognized in the football program’s Ring of Honor.

In my orange-tinted Pistol-vision, Thurman Thomas spends Saturday afternoon relishing the distinction of his being the first Oklahoma State Cowboy in the football program’s Ring of Honor.

Mike Gundy spends Saturday afternoon relishing his Cowboys’ victory over West Virginia, a result befitting the occasion.

Then Thomas and Gundy drive out to Gundy’s rural Stillwater refuge Saturday night, settle into chairs six feet apart on the back patio, crack open a couple Coors Lights and talk.

About the game. About this year’s eruptive OSU team. About the eruptive OSU team Thomas and Gundy joined forces on 33 years ago.

About last spring and summer. Yes, about that as well.

When Gundy risked alienating his current team and, in doing so, got the attention of football alumni like Thomas who needed Gundy to stop alienating them as well.

“I don’t know Mike Gundy,” Thomas said during a long, difficult discussion with his old OSU teammate Melvin Gilliam and me July 5. “I know him from the one and a half years that I played with him, and I don’t think that builds a relationship.”

Here is an enormous opportunity for some building, then.

Gundy’s first priority this weekend is to win the game, absolutely. His season-long priority is to keep winning while deepening personal bonds with current Cowboys, since OSU’s own review of its head coach last summer revealed that to be a flaw.

We’ll see how the relationships thing goes as the Pokes proceed. Until now, coaches and players have been vague about specific changes that everyone recognizes are sorely needed.

Anyway, the Cowboys have a season to play amid the pandemic, and championships to contend for. That’s their focus, and so we’ll likely have to await details on any personal clarity between head coach and players. That’s understood.

Thomas, though, does not intrude on the program’s prime directive. He represents Gundy’s past more than his present.

And yet a Saturday night-into-Sunday morning conversation between the two can do so much to help Gundy’s past and present.

“Hopefully I will get to see Mike and talk to him a little bit. I know it won’t be a long time,” Thomas said Tuesday during a Zoom call with media. “But you know what, he’ll know where I’m coming from and I’ll know where he’s coming from a little bit better.”

It needs to be as long as it takes so that understanding sets in. If understanding between these two old mates sets in, it can only lead to understanding with other old mates, with other OSU football alumni who have felt disconnected from the program for a while and are using Gundy’s offseason missteps as an excuse to voice their displeasure.

Maybe, even, a therapeutic chat between Gundy and Thomas helps further the coach’s cause with his current players. Maybe it helps him see things from Chuba Hubbard’s or Amen Ogbongbemiga’s eyes that much clearer.

Thomas wants to help the situation so badly. You could hear it in his voice July 5. You could hear it Tuesday when he referenced not just Gundy but former coaches Jimmy Johnson and Pat Jones, and not just Barry Sanders and Hart Lee Dykes but 21 OSU football players from various time periods in his 40-minute Zoom call.

“It’s my school, y’know?” Thomas said.

Gundy is his coach. Gundy is also a conduit to four of the best years of his life. That makes the connection here so critical.

Thomas said Tuesday that Gundy has not reached out to him since my column from our July 5 conversation appeared. He hopes that can change this weekend.

“Like I said, I don’t know him as well as probably I should know him, and that’s something that I’m looking forward to,” Thomas said. “I would love to sit down and have a conversation with Mike Gundy like I have a conversation with Melvin Gilliam, like I have a conversation with Curtis Luper, Hart Lee Dykes, those guys.”

Thomas also said: “I love Mike Gundy, I’m not gonna lie. I love that he handed the ball to me 25 to 30 times a game. I love that. He was a big part of my career, a big part of Barry’s career, a big part of Hart Lee’s career.

“I just wish the bond could be a little bit stronger. Because I get tired of seeing whatever the school down the street does all the time with their former players. You know what I’m saying?

“I’d love to have that strong relationship with Mike Gundy, and so would a lot of other players.”

Thomas understands the nature of Gundy’s job, and so he’ll take what he can get. He just wants this weekend to be the start of something fruitful, hopeful.

I understand if he can’t, but gosh I hope Gundy gives Thomas all the time he needs. Or really, all the time both need.

All the time the OSU football program, for the sake of its past and present, needs.

Gallery: OSU and NFL Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas through the years

Guerin Emig


Twitter: @GuerinEmig

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Sports Columnist

I'm the proud father of Gretchen and Holden. Devoted husband to Christy, who has been my best friend since biology class at Booker T. Washington. I covered the OU Sooners for 15 years. That was both challenging and rewarding. Now I get to write columns.

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