Gundy: Once A Leader, Always A Leader

Mike Gundy was in his element earlier this week as television cameras and journalists from newspapers across the state hung onto his every word. The 38-year-old Gundy didn't look or sound like the youngest head coach at the Division I-A level heading into Saturday's home opener against Montana State.

It may be different when the life-long Cowboy – sure he spent five years coaching at Baylor and Maryland (1996-2000) but Gundy has and always will be an OSU Cowboy at heart – wakes up Saturday morning knowing that later in the day he will have his first game as head coach of his alma mater. He may have a little anxiety come Saturday but the former Oklahoma State quarterback sure didn't show it Monday.

Most coaches – even those who have been around as long as Penn State's Joe Paterno (who begins his 40th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions on Saturday) – would get a little nervous knowing the uncertainty of the Cowboys entering the 2005 season. Here are just a few of the questions Gundy must be asking himself this week:
** How will the no-huddle, spread offense look?
** Will one of three running backs – who have carried the ball a total of 26 times in a college football game – step to forefront?
** Will the young, inexperienced secondary do the job against a quarterback (Travis Lulay of Montana State) who threw for 3,498 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago?
** Can the revamped defensive line apply pressure to the quarterback – something missing a year ago?
** How will the two-man quarterback rotation of Donovan Woods and Bobby Reid work?

Gundy, who may be a little nervous come Saturday (who wouldn't be?), appeared calm, cool and collected during Monday's media luncheon. He didn't sound like someone who was just days away from coaching his first game as his dream job. He sounded more concerned about the braces that were put on his top row of teeth last week than he was about the Cowboys' many unanswered questions entering the season opener. That's not to say that Gundy doesn't believe the Bobcats are a formidable opponent; he just thinks that the Cowboys have put in four good weeks of practice and are ready for their first game.

Gundy exudes confidence, and that will be evident when the Cowboys take the field Saturday for the first time under his direction. There were only a handful of media members in attendance Monday who can say they actually saw Gundy play in person – John Klein of the Tulsa World, Go Pokes Executive Editor Robert Allen, Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman and myself (while covering the Cowboys for the defunct Tulsa Tribune). Gundy was a leader when he quarterbacked the Cowboys during the late 1980s, has been throughout his career as an assistant coach and will be a leader when his team takes the field throughout the 2005 season.

What type of leader was Gundy as a player? In 1989, as a senior, the Cowboys entered a mid-October game against Kansas State with a 1-4 record. Gundy had started 37 consecutive games but was not able to do so that day because of a bruised knee, and he wasn't even supposed to play. But the Cowboys trailed 13-10 late in the third quarter when Gundy came off the bench. He directed back-to-back drives that would have normally led the Cowboy touchdowns – but one was stopped on downs inside the K-State 5-yard line and another ended inside the K-State 30 on a fumble.

OSU still trailed by three with 5:17 left in the game, but Gundy drove the Cowboys 91 yards for the game-winning touchdown. At the Wildcat 15, he audibled to a pass to receiver Brent Parker for the game-winning TD pass.

"I'll always member that about Mike," Parker said. "He wasn't supposed to play, but he made the decision that he was going to get out there and help the team. We were used to winning, but we were struggling that year. When he went into the game, even though he didn't have to and there really wasn't much to gain from it, he gained a lot of respect from his teammates. He was still in there scraping and fighting and going even though the game didn't mean a whole lot. That shows his character and his toughness." (Note: This quote is an excerpt from the article "One Drop Became Character Test" which can be found in the October issue of Go Pokes Magazine.)

During his playing days Gundy may not have been the most imposing player to ever wear the Cowboy uniform but he still led OSU to back-to-back 10-win seasons and is the Big 8 Conference's all-time passing leader. And, he may not have led the Cowboys to a win every time he set foot on the field but he always gave his team a chance to win.

On Saturday, he will be the youngest head coach in Division I-A, his team may have a bunch of unanswered questions, he may not have the most talented players at every position .... but Gundy, as he did as a player, will give his Cowboys a chance to win every time they take the field.

About 5:50 p.m. Saturday, when the OSU football team races out onto Boone Pickens Stadium, Gundy will be back where he belongs – leading the Cowboys.

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