Q&A: Mike Gundy

The regular season is over and the bowl announcements will be made Sunday with Oklahoma State apparently set to take on Arizona in the 2010 Valero Alamo Bowl. We spoke with Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy about the season, the shape of his program, now and in the future.

We also asked about coaches staying such as in demand offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and players returning next year, especially breakout wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who Gundy called his Biletnikoff Award winner and the best college wide receiver in the nation.

Here goes, Q&A with Mike Gundy.

GP: Good morning.
Gundy: Good morning, Robert.

GP: This is always a tough week as the regular season ends because you get out of the routine of preparing for games. How are you handling the end of the regular season?
Gundy: I think we all enjoy that time of the year. The most enjoyable time of the year is when we can be on the field and in meetings with our players and have the opportunity to spend time with them and be with them, develop them as men and players. Now we are kind of on a dead week for lack of a better term. The coaches are on the road recruiting. I'm in the office doing the organization for bowl practices and the next step in recruiting. We've been fortunate that we've got a number of guys that are involved in some national awards and they are flying all over the country to be a banquets and functions, and coaches have to go with them. So there is a lot of structure and organization that is going on from our standpoint, but it certainly is not as much fun as getting ready to play in a game and going out there on Saturday.

GP: Congratulations on being the unanamous Big 12 Coach of the Year. But more than the awards, was this your most rewarding year as a head coach?
Gundy: I would agree with that. I've been a part of coaching some teams that were difficult just from being involved with the players and not all of the outside situations. With these guys we started the season as an underdog and there weren't very many players on the team being recognized other than Kendall (Hunter). Even Orie Lemon wasn't recognized prior to the season because of his injury. As the season progressed we saw players mature and develop, take on leadership roles, win football games, buy in. Every player and every coach, every support person in our building has bought in and jumped in with both feet, and because of that we had success, and yes, it has been very fun.

GP: What has been the most impressive with Kendall Hunter coming back from his injury, Brandon Weeden developing as rapidly as he did, Justin Blackmon coming from out of nowhere to be the top receiver or the way the offensive line with four new starters came along so fast. Was it the offensive line that was the most amazing?
Gundy: I don't think we can discard what Justin Blackmon did because in my opinion he is the Biletnikoff winner. You take a guy that we thought was going to be a good player to being the best receiver in the nation with his performance and statistics this year. Then the secondary, I thought that Johnny Thomas and Markelle (Martin), Brodrick (Brown), and Andrew McGee gave us a lot in the secondary, along with the offensive line and not knowing what was there. When you win 10 games in the regular season it is hard to just point out a couple of people because it doesn't work that way. You have to have a number of guys play much better than expected. Then you have to have a team that is not driven by their individual accolades or things they could concern themselves with individually other than the team. Really, why this team has won 10 games is we had no individuals and we had guys playing better than anyone anticipated they would.

GP: There is talk all over around this time about coaching and coaching vacancies. I've had calls on the rumors down in Austin with Mack Brown potentially shaking up his offensive staff, and the same with Urban Meyer in Florida. Dana Holgorsen's name gets thrown out a lot. There are head coaching vacancies out there. As a head coach you want to keep your staff together but you also want to help guys achieve their career goals. It is a Catch 22, isn't it?
Gundy: It really is. I would be leary of any of those calls coming from Austin, from any sportswriter down there. It is kind of fake journalism. Throwing something out there and seeing if it sticks on the wall. There is a lot going on out there and when you have success as a football team then people want to know why. In the professional world out there in college football, whether you like it or not, a school such as Oklahoma State that is now building football tradition, they started it here in the '80s and then, unfortunately, it faded off in the '90s, and now we're back building football tradition at this school and people want to know why you are winning. That is just the way this business is. If Notre Dame comes back and starts winning a lot of football games as I think they will because I think Coach Kelly is a good football coach, people are going to expect it. The perception across the country, which is now changing, is that people don't expect Oklahoma State to be a consistent winner. When you do win everybody wants to know why. The coaches that are on your staff, Larry Fedora and Tim Beckman, Todd Bradford, who has moved on to be a coordinator, and the coaches that are on my staff now, people are interested in them and that is a good thing. Now it becomes the responsibility of Oklahoma State to keep them, to make sure everything is right and takes care of them until they have the opportunity to be a head coach, or if they are an assistant coach to go on and be a big-time coordinator. When that day comes we are going to support them.

GP: Here is the big question we get asked a lot, will Justin Blackmon be back next season? I know there is the process of going through and advising them on what the opportunities are. Fans are really curious about Justin Blackmon being back.
Gundy: Well, we take the individual into account and they are all different. Justin Blackmon needs some work. He is a very, very good football player but he needs another year of development and needs some more maturity in the weight room. He needs to develop his skills in some areas. I know people will say, 'wow, you've got be kidding me.' The NFL is all about man coverage, press coverage, and me against you. He needs some development in those areas. I'll say it again, I think he is the best receiver in the country and I think he deserves to win the Biletnikoff Award. He can come back and train in the winter like he did last year with Coach (Rob) Glass, go through spring practice and develop, develop more over the summer, and could very well be a top five pick in the draft after next season. My recommendation would be to take that path because a top five pick in the draft from a financial standpoint, if that is something that interests him as it does most of those players, you are talking the difference of $40-$45 million based on what a late round pick or early second round pick would get. The NFL is all about guaranteed money because you don't get any money in the NFL on an annual basis until you get to that second contract. It is all about that signing bonus that is guaranteed. My suggestion to him and I think he is on board and I don't think there is any question, he needs to work on his skills that need to be developed a little more and he needs to mature a little bit more and get a little older. He has not been a key player until this year. Last year he played sparingly, so he needs to develop and grow. I'd like to have him back for two more years, but I am very realistic and the chances of that aren't very good. They come into my office and sit down and talk and the NFL people say that this guy is going to be a top five pick and you put that together with his maturity and his development then if you're my son Justin, you are out of here. That is my opinion on it.

GP: This bowl game, we think it will be the Alamo against Arizona. But whatever bowl and opponent it seems this one will be very important to win. Next season you return a lot of players and momentum into the offseason would appear to be more important.
Gundy: They had the week off and they are going to show back up here Monday and we are going to practice a couple of days and then we have to take a couple of days off because we have some guys that are blowing out of here going to national awards show and then we come back and get right back after it. To answer your question, it is very important. They understand that and we had a discussion a week ago that we are going to give you a week off. You need to go relax and get aways from here, get away from your coaches, go to class, go to study hall, take care of your business, stay out of trouble and then come back ready to go. Everybody understands that and I am not concerned one bit about the leadership of this football team, not at all. They have handled themselves very well, they have matured, they understand the importance, they like each other, and so I am not concerned about them coming back and getting back to business from this point on.

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