Oklahoma's Cale Gundy: Recruiters are 'exploring things ... that have never happened before'

Sweeping rule changes are altering the way college football coaches think about how to land new recruits — and how to keep them
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Cale Gundy has long been lauded as one of Oklahoma’s most dynamic recruiters.

So of course, he’s seen the recruiting game evolve over the years — sometimes glacially, at an easy pace, and sometimes with massive sea changes at a breakneck pace.

But even Gundy hasn’t seen anything like what’s coming down the pike.

“There's no doubt,” Gundy told SI Sooners on a video press conference Wednesday, “we're about to start exploring things in college football that have never happened before.”

The NCAA just passed a new rule allowing players immediate eligibility if they want to transfer — at least the first time they transfer.

“We're trying to think of what other things could possibly be happening. We're trying to prepare ourselves for something to happen in six months or a year from now.“

— Cale Gundy

That means coaches can spend 4-5 years or more nurturing relationships with prospects and their families, then have them committed for 2-3 years, the have their signature on a binding contract for a year, then have them enrolled and taking classes and playing in games for four months — only to have them leave and go to another school, where they're now eligible to play right away for a different coach.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. Oklahoma will make use of the transfer portal just like everyone else. Gundy said it reminds him of the challenge college basketball coaches face with players declaring for the NBA Draft but then maintaining their eligibility in case it doesn’t work out.

“ ‘I’m gonna go the NBA,’ ” Gundy said, “ ‘but I'm not gonna sign sign with anybody because I might want to come back.’ “

With only 13 scholarships to give, basketball coaches must make all kinds of contingency plans — even more now with the one-time transfer rule in effect.

“We’re going into stuff right now that we've never been into.”

— Cale Gundy

Player empowerment is great for the players — at least, it’s intended to be — but it will bring challenges for those in charge of adequately stocking rosters and parsing out scholarships.

To that end, Gundy thinks some will benefit from the new rules — without transferring.

”You know, the relationships that your coaches and the staff have with your players has always been extremely important,” Gundy said. “I think it's got to be even more important now. I think you’ve got to know where your players are — you know, mindset — when it comes to being a part of this program and wanting to stick with this program. Instead of guys just, you know, wanting to jump ship and go somewhere else.”

Gundy and the other OU coaches will soon be able sell something else to recruits that past college athletes couldn't dream of without committing an NCAA violation: Name, Image and Likeness opportunities.

”The relationships that your coaches and the staff have with your players has always been extremely important,” Gundy said. “I think it's got to be even more important now.”

— Cale Gundy

Players will soon be able to market their own brand to local merchants, retailers or other business in the college community and beyond. There’s a potential hangup about not being able to sign with a company that is already aligned with your school — Spencer Rattler won’t be able to hawk Jordan Brand, for instance — but the earning potential for social media engagements, endorsements, autographs, promotional appearances and more seem endless.

How will Gundy, Lincoln Riley and the rest of the staff pitch that to future prospects?

“We’re going into stuff right now that we've never been into,” Gundy said, “ … but as a staff and as coach Riley, you know, we're trying to — in our minds, we're trying to think of what other things could possibly be happening. We're trying to prepare ourselves for something to happen in six months or a year from now.”

Gundy has never been afraid to push the envelope and be creative in recruiting. His most famous recruiting pull came after he visited Adrian Peterson's dad in federal prison. It showed the level of commitment that Gundy and Bob Stoops had made to landing the nation's best prospect. No other schools followed — OU was first, and the warden shut it down after that — but it meant everything to Peterson, and he signed with the Sooners. The rest, of course, is history.

“Recruiting has changed so much, as you said, over the years,” Gundy said. “There's so many different things that have changed. You know, the social media has made it — it's changed the just the world we live in itself, but it's also changed the recruiting side of it. So, don't really want to go into what we think are ideas or things that could possibly happen down the road, but it is, it's going to be challenging.

“But you know what? It's gonna be challenging for everybody, and it is what it is. At the end of the day, we gotta get the guys ready that are here to be good football players and help us win football games.”