The coach of the visiting team warned the reporters who gathered for his postgame press conference.
“This is going to hurt some feelings,” he said.
Then he offered a litany of complaints.
On his offense: “We had an offense that was extremely powerful, extremely productive, that probably sits and reads their press clippings and in arrogant fashion sat around the sideline with their arms folded for most of the second half.”
On his defense: “The entire first half we got hit in the mouth and acted like somebody took our lunch money. All we wanted to do was have pouty expressions on our face until somebody dabbed our little tears off and made us [expletive] feel better. And then we'd go out there and try harder once our mommies told us we were O.K.”
Those reporters bounded back to the press box with gold in their recorders. They’d certainly have the best stories from this game because Mike Leach had gone OFF. But this was Sept. 22, 2007. Leach was mad because his Texas Tech team had just lost 49–45 to Oklahoma State. So when those reporters got back to the press box, they all got the same question from the stunned writers who had covered the home coach’s press conference.
Did you hear what Gundy said?
You’ve heard what Mike Gundy said. Everyone with ESPN or an active Internet connection has heard what Gundy said. If you were of a certain age in 2007 and fascinated by a three-year-old site that allowed anyone to post video and then streamed it in a functional manner, you probably can recite it word-for-word.
I want to talk about this article right here. If anybody hasn't read this article—I don't read it—this was brought to me by a mother. Of children.
The rant includes 471 words and lasts 200 seconds. It reaches its crescendo two minutes and 23 seconds in when Gundy reveals his age and his gender with extreme prejudice.
It’s almost over when he says, “That’s all I’ve got to say.” Then he says one more thing.
Makes me want to puke.
That man turns 50 on Saturday. Come after him if you must, but understand that he doesn’t plan on screaming in response.
For those people of a certain age who memorized the tirade because they were fascinated by the way YouTube could deliver the exact video they wanted at the click of a mouse instead of making them wait until the bottom of the hour on SportsCenter, this particular stranger’s birthday will make them feel quite old. When you’ve seen Mike Gundy announce that he’s 40 years old 742 times, he’s supposed to stay 40 forever. He’s not supposed to turn 50. He’s certainly not supposed to turn 60, but in 10 years he will. He says he’ll be retired by then—just like rival Bob Stoops, who retired from Oklahoma in June at age 56. “I don’t see myself coaching in my 60s,” Gundy says. “I don’t think I can have the energy to do what it takes, in my opinion, to be successful and win at Oklahoma State being 60 years old.”
So much has changed in those 10 years.
The piece in The Oklahoman that prompted Gundy’s rant was written by columnist Jenni Carlson about then Cowboys quarterback Bobby Reid, who had been supplanted by Zac Robinson the week before that Texas Tech game. It used information obtained off the record from Oklahoma State staffers to question Reid’s manhood. It opened with a scene of Reid being fed chicken by his mother following a loss at Troy the previous week*.
*Oklahoma State lost that game at Troy on the Friday night of Week 3 in 2007. On Friday night of Week 2 this year, the Cowboys will return to non-SEC Alabama when they face South Alabama in Mobile. College football is weird most of the time.
The column, which ran under the headline “Reid is still the most talented signal-caller, but attitude is reason for change,” included this passage:
There’s something to be said for not being a malcontent, but you can almost see Reid shrugging his shoulders as he says those words. Does he have the fire in his belly?
Or does he want to be coddled, babied, perhaps even fed chicken?
That scene in the parking lot last week had no bearing on the Cowboys changing quarterbacks, and yet, it said so much about Reid. A 21-year-old letting his mother feed him in public? Most college kids, much less college football players, would just as soon be seen running naked across campus.
Reid wasn’t the most talented signal-caller, though. Robinson was. He was the first excellent quarterback of Gundy’s tenure, and he laid the groundwork for Brandon Weeden and now Mason Rudolph. But nobody outside the program knew that then. Gundy was furious the column had run on gameday—as if it was the most important thing going on with a team that had settled on Robinson more than a week earlier. He was furious it attacked Reid’s character, which he considered out of bounds. He spent much of the rant stalking back and forth and suggesting that when Carlson had a child of her own, she might view things differently.
Carlson has since had a child. Reid, meanwhile, left Oklahoma State and finished his career at Texas Southern. In 2008, he told ESPN The Magazine’s Tom Friend that Gundy’s rant “basically ended my life.” But Reid and Gundy met in 2012 and chatted for 90 minutes. The following February, Gundy hired Reid to a support staff role that he kept until ’15, when he left for SMU.
If it happened the same way now, Gundy doesn’t think he’d react the way he did. “I think through things a lot differently,” he says. “Patience has become a big part of my life in a lot of areas.” Maybe he’d have still fired off a rant in 2011, but not now. “What I want my players to know is you can’t get too worked up over a situation,” he says. “I’ve learned that over the last four or five years.”
But had Gundy walked into that press conference and calmly answered questions about his defense holding the Red Raiders to 10 points in the second half, his program might not be where it is now. To understand how profoundly the rant raised the profile of Gundy and the program, it’s important to understand the history of Oklahoma State football and the media landscape of 2007.
Oklahoma State had some all-time great players—Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, for example—but the Cowboys had struggled to sustain success. Oklahoma State went 10–2 in 1987 with Thomas leading the way on the ground and Gundy throwing to Hart Lee Dykes. Thomas was gone the following year, but that only allowed Sanders to shine as Gundy and Dykes kept the passing game humming. The Cowboys went 10–2 that year, too. The next three years, Oklahoma State went 4–7, 4–7 and 0-10-1. Coach Pat Jones gave way to Bob Simmons, but consistency remained elusive. It wasn’t until the tenure of Les Miles (2001–04) that the Cowboys began considering bowl eligibility an annual expectation. Gundy was promoted to head coach when Miles left for LSU after the ’04 season, and Gundy’s first season is the only one of his tenure that didn’t end in a bowl appearance. The Cowboys won the Big 12 in ’11, and their exclusion from the Big 12 title game was the inciting incident that created the College Football Playoff. Gundy’s teams have logged double-digit wins five times. Oklahoma State only did that three times before Gundy took over the program, and Gundy was the starting quarterback for two of those seasons.
That’s a long way of saying that Oklahoma State wasn’t exactly a national brand in 2007. It was barely a regional brand.
But when Gundy went off, he tapped into the confluence of two major media phenomena at the same time he was turning Oklahoma State into a consistent winner. In 2007, cable subscribership was near its peak. ESPN was running SportsCenter all morning and then again in the early and late evening. Compelling sports video was guaranteed to run every hour, on the hour from 5 a.m. to noon Eastern and then multiple times later in the day. Meanwhile, YouTube was just reaching a mainstream audience. Your grandmother wouldn’t join Facebook until two or three years later. Twitter existed but wouldn’t go mainstream until 2009. Instagram, which would have been filled with supercuts of the best parts of the rant had it happened now, wouldn’t exist until 2010 and wouldn’t add video capability until 2013.
Gundy was one of the original YouTube stars. His peers?
This young lady.
This reporter (who actually filmed this segment years earlier).
And this guy—who defended Britney Spears the same way Gundy defended Bobby Reid.
Between the television and the computer—the iPhone, introduced in 2007, would eventually have us all watching this sort of thing on our phones—members of every generation across the country saw Gundy’s rant. “It was really kind of a turning point for us at Oklahoma State in recruiting,” Gundy says. “It opened up so many doors for us with parents and young people who appreciated that.”
Don’t believe that? Then consider the 12-year-old in South Carolina who watched the man in orange yell dozens of times. “If you watched SportsCenter, you saw that,” Rudolph says. “I definitely saw that.” When Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich first called Rudolph to recruit him, the images that ran through Rudolph’s mind were Weeden throwing, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon catching and Gundy ranting.
Winning has opened the most doors, but Gundy has stumbled into other ways to go viral. Last year, he let his hair grow long in the back to drive his two youngest boys crazy. The mullet became a sensation. Suddenly, Gundy was kibitzing with former NHL coach Barry Melrose—owner of the finest mullet in sports—on SportsCenter. The mullet’s every move was tracked on the web. Would Gundy cut it, or would he go the full Travis Tritt?
Last December, a panic spread through College Football Twitter. Someone snapped a photo of Gundy sitting in the chair of a stylist named Kathy at Stillwater’s Klip It Up.
Was the mullet no more? Fortunately, it was just a trim. “That’s when we learned to close the blinds,” Gundy says.
Gundy’s fellow coaches remain split on the mullet. “Bob [Stoops] liked it,” Gundy says. “[West Virginia coach] Dana [Holgorsen] wanted me to perm it. [Kansas State] Coach [Bill] Snyder just does this—” Here, Gundy drops his eyes and shakes his head.
The sons Gundy grew the mullet to torment now want him to keep it. He trimmed it again recently, spurring more questions: “It had ponytail potential at one time, so I either had to go with that or trim it a little.” It is shorter, and some product also has found its way into Gundy’s coiffure, but the coach remains steadfastly business up front and party in the back.
At Big 12 media days, Gundy wondered aloud how much Oklahoma State would have had to pay for the publicity his hair has brought the program and the school. “That would be a good subject for marketing majors, graduate students to look into,” Gundy mused. “But I'm going to say that the dollar figure is somewhere in the millions for the amount of time that we’ve had on the air for that.”
He’s not wrong. And Gundy has a knack for generating more of that free publicity. Want to put him in a singlet in an social media video to promote a No. 1 vs. No. 2 dual meet against Penn State? Sure. Recruits will love that. Just make sure to get a shot of the mug.
Here, Coach. Hold this rattlesnake. Gotta tweet this.
Gundy isn’t sure how many of his players know the rant, though. He knows they know about it, but the generation that has memorized it has aged out of college football. At least he thinks so. “The generation that would bring it up,” Gundy says, “they’re all in their upper 30s now.” A certain group of 18- to 22-year-olds would disagree. “There’s a lot of people who do it,” Oklahoma State punter Zach Sinor says when asked how many Cowboys have a Gundy rant impression. And they aren’t the only millennials who can claim they’re men. “My 15-year-old could,” Gundy says. “He’s good at it. He’s capable of winning a talent show at junior high by doing it. But I don’t know if I could do it or not. It would be hard.”
The last time anyone brought up the rant to Gundy in public was in Omaha this summer. One of his boys was playing in a baseball tournament there, and Gundy decided to take in a College World Series game. A Florida fan and an LSU fan—isn’t that how a good joke or a good fight starts?—serenaded Gundy with their ages. “I took pictures with them,” he says. “They were 20 to 30 beers over the limit. That’s the only time I’ve heard it in the last few years.”
He probably won’t be able to escape it for the next six weeks. So far, Gundy has turned down opportunities to commemorate the rant. Talk show host Jim Rome wanted Gundy to come to Southern California this summer to celebrate the man at 50, but Gundy was booked solid. His boys had baseball. He had to go to ESPN to talk mullets and an offense that could be more explosive than the Weeden-Blackmon outfit in 2011.
Gundy doesn’t want to forget the rant. He’ll answer just about any question asked about it. It’s just that he’s outgrown it.
He says it’ll never happen again. His quarterback isn’t so sure. “Maybe if one of you guys is unlucky in there asking a question,” Rudolph said to a group of reporters last month. “If he goes off on you, you become history.”