STILLWATER, Okla. — At one point, Mike Gundy thought he probably wouldn’t finish his coaching career at Oklahoma State. But on Tuesday, he said he’ll be at his alma mater as long as they will have him.
“No, I wouldn’t have thought I would still be here, but I do now,” Gundy told ESPN. “This is who I am. This is what I am. This is where I belong. This is me. There’s no reason for me to go anywhere else.”
Gundy, entering his 15th season as Oklahoma State’s head coach, was heavily courted by Tennessee prior to the 2018 season and admits it was the closest he’s come to leaving the program. He said it was actually the third different time he could have had the Tennessee job, the first time coming after Lane Kiffin left the Vols following the 2009 season to go to USC and the second time after they fired Derek Dooley following the 2012 season.
“I’ve had that (Tennessee) job offered three different times,” said Gundy, who turned 52 on Monday. “It’s ironic that it’s always been Tennessee. I guess it gets to a point where you say, ‘Is it time for me to make a change? I’m 50-something years old. Is it time for me to go do things differently?’ Sometimes in your life, you think that way.
“Tennessee put together an unbelievable package, and it’s hard to tell somebody no when that happens. But I made the right decision.” Following the courtship by Tennessee, Gundy received a $625,000 one-time increase from Oklahoma State to a five-year rollover contract he signed in 2017 that was set up to increase annually by $125,000 and run through the 2023 season. He will make $5.125 million in 2019.
Among Power 5 head coaches, only Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and TCU’s Gary Patterson have been at their schools longer. Gundy is also one of only four current Power 5 coaches, including Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, with a winning record over the last three seasons against teams ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. The other two are Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
Oklahoma State finished 7-6 last season, but since 2010, the Cowboys have had six seasons with at least 10 wins, including an outright Big 12 championship in 2011.
There was a time when that 2011 season tormented Gundy, especially with Oklahoma State being passed up by Alabama in the final BCS standings. The Crimson Tide went on to play LSU in a rematch after losing the regular-season contest and captured the national championship.
“We would have played LSU and won,” Gundy said. “They were an overload-the-box, man-to-man team on defense, and you could not play our team in man that year. We were too good. That still bothers me, that we didn’t get a shot. And if the system was set up like it is now, we would have been in the playoff. I guess those things don’t drive me as much. I love for our kids to have success, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t dwell on it like I used to.”
As much as anything, Gundy said he enjoys living in the state of Oklahoma, whether it’s hog hunting with his three sons or visiting with his parents at their home in the Oklahoma City area. And while he understands that more than a few coaches over the years have backed themselves into a corner by saying that there were no new coaching horizons for them, he genuinely feels that way now.
“I thought at some point if the Dallas Cowboys called and wanted me to coach that it would be hard not to do that,” said Gundy, who played quarterback at Oklahoma State. “But as I watch what happens when I read about that level, it doesn’t do much for me. This is really who I am, here at Oklahoma State. We take good young men. We have a good culture. We have fun.
“Now, talent-wise, are we going to have Top 25 teams every year from a pure talent perspective? Probably not, but we can still win a lot of games and we have won a lot of games.”