Are You Ready? This is a Good Continuation to a Good Start Last Week
STILLWATER -- The past week into this week has been depressing, sad, hurtful, and gut wrenching; but it was also been enlightening, uplifting, spiritual, bonding, and healing.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was called out by All-American running back Chuba Hubbard following a Twitter message that showed Gundy with two of his sons showing off a bunch of stripers at Lake Texhoma. Now, everybody in the world knows Gundy was wearing a One America News t-shirt.
That shirt, that is likely in Gundy's trash or picked up by now and at home at the Stillwater sanitation dump, was just a symbol. It was only a marker for the message that is becoming more and more clear. This wasn't about ear rings, head coverings, or music played in the locker room as some had suggested.
Working on the Oklahoma State Radio Network and being an insider has a price with it. Sometimes you can't report what you see or hear. You end up with a lot of "off the record" testimony that badly needs to be on the record. You see things you so badly want to correct or make suggestions, but more times than not, choose to stay in your lane or as New England Patriots Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick would say, "just do your job."
I am doing my job. Tomorrow I get to have Anthony Diaz on my radio show. Diaz is the young man that walked on and had his heart stop on the practice field. I was the only media person there as saw head athletics trainer at Oklahoma State John Stemm and head football trainer Scott Parker save the young man's life. I saw how Mike Gundy handled it was his team and I wouldn't have done anything different.
That story has been incorrectly told, but most of the stories have been mostly correct. This was not about a shirt, but was about a head football coach and football staff that was teaching and coaching, but not relating to their players. Like any other situation, some were and others not so much.
Chuba Hubbard carried the ball 328 times last season for 2,094-yards and 21 touchdowns. Hubbard, unknown to most, suffered a painful injury in fall camp and then played with it all season. It is the kind of injury that only heals with inactivity. It does not heal when you are being hit 20-30 times a game and running for 161-yards a game.
Teven Jenkins blocks for Hubbard and protects the quarterbacks. In fact, last season Jenkins blocking target never put a hand on an Oklahoma State quarterback. Jenkins gets beat up a lot while protecting Spencer Sanders and last season at the end Dru Brown.
Wide receiver Tylan Wallace caught 53 passes for 903-yards, eight touchdowns, and showed off one heckuva stiff-arm in Ames, Iowa. He is also a ferocious blocker, but he missed the four games and the bowl after he tore his ACL and had it surgically repaired.
Safety Kolby Harvel-Peel, safety Tre Sterling, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga, linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, defensive tackle Cameron Murray, defensive end Trace Ford, and defensive tackle Brendon Evers take a lot of hits while dishing out hits on defense.
Those are just some of the players, but their message in meetings last week with Mike Gundy, with the coaching staff, and for some, with athletic department administrators is they want more, more of a relationship with Mike Gundy, more with the coaching staff. Better communication and consideration.
Quite frankly, they deserve it. This game is about the players. It is physical and it extracts a toll from every player that stars or helps prepare the team for the Saturday battles. Mike Gundy has stressed that over the years. He wants the players to have the best facilities, the best equipment, the best training and coaching, the best medical care, the best food and living conditions, and the best assistance and counseling with academics. He gets the sacrifice that players make.
I've heard Gundy preach that for years. He has told his staff to keep meetings reasonable with time constraints. He has always kept practices very reasonable. He has made sure players are addressed with respect and not dog-cussed as was often the case in my day and his day and in some places still happens today. Gundy has been labeled a player's coach.
When he first took the job, and my son was on that team, the coaching staff and their families would eat training table with the team once a week. Coaches were in their offices more later in the evening and players knew they could catch them if they needed a conversation. Gundy would, as a rule, take one camp practice in August and send the players back to the locker room to change and the team would go to a movie, go bowling, or go play softball.
Those events have disappeared off the calendar. The players are treated well, but the attitude is pretty much strictly business.
Last week was not about a t-shirt. That was merely the ignition switch. This is about relationships and Chuba Hubbard, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Malcolm Rodriguez, Cameron Murray, Landon Wolf, Dillon Stoner, and Kolby Harvel-Peel want more and I think they will get it.
I've talked, like I said, to a lot of people that wanted to talk but didn't want to be quoted.
Some of those people are involved in the new Diversity and Inclusion Council that is starting in Oklahoma State athletics. It will be led by OSU Vice President for Institutional Diversity and the school's chief diversity officer Dr. Jason F. Kirksey. This is a good move.
The best move came last week when Mike Gundy listened to his players and I have it on as good authority as it gets that his world was rocked and he recognized he had changed and needed to be that young coach again that took over Oklahoma State football and built it up like never before. The job this time doesn't require as much football and X-and-O's, but more compassion, time, and person-to-person communication.
I think the problem is well on it's way to having a solution. I also know the players don't want a new coach. They just want more of the coach and the coaches they have.