Nearly every day since June 16 — the day after Mike Gundy’s T-shirt photo was tweeted — I’ve been asked in emails and text messages about his employment status at Oklahoma State.
After having spent several hours in Stillwater on June 16, and after having talked with several informed university people, it was obvious that OSU was furious about Gundy’s decision to wear — in public, during a fishing trip — a One America News Network (OAN) T-shirt.
I would presume that university officials studied the possibility that Gundy had committed a violation of his contract — in which case there would have been the possibility of a firing without the $17 million buyout.
However, I never sensed any serious movement to fire the Cowboys’ head coach.
On June 15, when the T-shirt photo spread on Twitter like wildfire, there was angry reaction from Chuba Hubbard and other current and former OSU players.
As Gundy, in effect, promoted a network that has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, there were expression-of-concern tweets from OSU President Burns Hargis and athletic director Mike Holder.
There had been no additional comment from any Oklahoma State authority figure until Thursday night, when Holder released a defining statement.
“We have spent the past couple of weeks reviewing our program and talking with current and former players,” Holder said. “Our internal review found that coach Gundy needs to invest more time in building stronger relationships with his student-athletes. However, our review has uncovered no signs or indication of racism.
“After meeting with coach Gundy, I am confident that he listened to his student-athletes (during team meetings that occurred since June 15). I believe he is genuine in his commitment to strengthening relationships with his players.
“I believe this to be a win for everyone,” Holder concluded. “I’m looking forward to seeing the impact this will have on our team.”
On Friday morning, Holder will take questions during a Zoom conference with media members.
As the T-shirt controversy resulted in national coverage and discussion of the situation, and as there was speculation on the situation’s potential impact on recruiting, it’s safe to presume that Gundy experienced more turbulence in mid-June than he had ever felt during the 15½-year run since he was promoted to the head-coaching position.
The settings, dates and tones of the Gundy-players meetings are not known, but it is known that the first meeting happened at Boone Pickens Stadium on the morning of June 16.
Based on the positive social-media responses of several players, it must have gone well.
I wondered how much time would pass before OSU would share some enlightenment regarding Gundy’s promise to introduce positive changes in the program.
Holder also has been involved in recent meetings — and at least one of those involved Gundy. Apparently, Holder was satisfied with Gundy’s message.
A mind-blowing stat: the 2020 season will be Gundy’s 30th in the Oklahoma State program. That includes four seasons as a quarterback, six as an assistant coach and four as an offensive coordinator.
At the college level, relationships are critically important. If an athlete believes or knows that he’s valued by the head coach, that athlete is going to find a little extra at crunch time.
With 129 victories and a streak of 14 consecutive winning seasons, Gundy is clearly defined as most important figure in OSU football history. If he does, in fact, become more invested in his players as people, and if it starts to happen immediately, then he’ll be a better coach in 2020 than he’s ever been before.
It would, as Holder said, “be a win” for Oklahoma State.