The Rundown: Gundy Talks Sanders, Defense, Mullet at Big 12 Media Days

July 15, 2021

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys had their turn at Big 12 Media Days on Thursday, and more came up than just Mike Gundy’s hair.

Gundy, Oklahoma State’s coach, spent about 20 minutes at the main podium between hits with different radio stations, ESPN and elsewhere. Here is what he had to say in that main session.

Opening statement

“Obviously, we’re all very excited to get back and get started. I’m getting great reports from our strength coaches on our team over the summer. Very proud of our guys for their accomplishments in a variety of areas from last season. I thought they were fantastic and looking forward to the season.

“We’re extremely excited and I feel like that we have the best staff from top to bottom in all the different areas. There’s about 78 people that are in our building that work with our players on a daily basis. And I feel like this is the best group that I’ve had in my 17 years as the head coach. Makes my job much easier. Very excited about it. Looking forward to getting started in a couple of weeks.”

On Spencer Sanders’ growth

“We’ve been very impressed and excited about Spencer’s development. My personal opinion is last year the spring ball that he missed and summer conditioning because of COVID set him back. And I feel like in the two months that we watched him over spring ball, he’s developed more than he has in two years.

“So, we’ll find out once the season starts. There’s never been a question with his toughness, his commitment, and his competitive nature. I think that Tim Rattay has done a fantastic job of developing him, and he looked very comfortable as we wrapped up spring in the month of April.”

On which receivers he sees stepping up in Tylan Wallace’s absence

“We have Brennan Presley who came on and played a considerable amount as the season went on last year, was very young and developed, started making some plays. We have a number of guys that we feel like should develop as the season goes on. We don’t necessarily have what would be a marquee player that we have traditionally had at that position at Oklahoma State.

“It will be very interesting to watch how Tay Martin develops. We feel good about his development, after getting into our program. And he’s in really good physical condition now. He played last year, started to develop some in the latter part of the season when he finally got in good shape. So we’re hoping that those guys will carry us a little bit at that position.”

On having a new University President and Athletic Director

“Well, there’s a lot of things that are very exciting for us. I’ve had some conversations with Dr. Shrum. I’m looking forward to having many more. You guys know me; I’m going to give you my honest opinion. I think she’s very innovative. I think that she is a good listener. I think she’s tough. And I think that she’s going to be fantastic for Oklahoma State. Only time will tell. But the time that I’ve spent with her, I think that she and I had the ability to see eye to eye. And we’ll work very well in the future.

“Obviously, Chad Weiberg’s been in our department a number of years, but he’s not been the guy in charge. It’s just the way it is. He now is in charge. I’m very excited about that. And I think that we have three people that are very interested in coming together as a group and finding ways to continue Oklahoma State football in the path that it’s been on and make it even better than it has been in the future.

“And obviously, Dr. Shrum and Chad have other things going on, but if you’re talking about the three of us as a group with me included, that’s the area I’m looking forward to working with them and making it better than it’s ever been before.”

On Kolby Harvell-Peel

“We’re very excited about Kolby. I think at one point that, like most young men, he felt like that he wanted to try to move on and make some money playing this game. And then, at some point, he called and said that he would like to return and develop himself for another year.

“So, he’s had a great spring and I’m hearing great things about him as a leader this summer. And in the Big 12 Conference, having experience in the secondary, particularly at the safety positions and/or outside backers, are very important, in my opinion, because of the fantastic quarterback play and skill that we have in this league. The experience allows those guys to not get their eyes violated a lot in run-pass situations and certainly helps our defense make more plays.”

On cutting his mullet

“Honestly, when I went in to Kathy — Kathy, she’s cut my hair for 20 years now — and I love her company, but I said I’ve got a lot of things going on, so let’s try and cut my hair to where I don’t have to cut it until the season’s over. And she finally agreed to do it. And so we did it.

“I didn’t really think it would be a big deal anymore. But I do get a lot of questions about it. But we’ve had a lot of fun with it. And I’m hoping that it will still grow really fast and get back by the end of the season.”

On a potential 12-team playoff

“I’ll be honest with you, I know very little about the detail. I’ve seen just little things here and there. It’s somewhat unfair for me to comment on it. And it’s one of those topics that’s going to take place by somebody at some particular point. And then we play by those rules.

“When we decide to be a member, then whatever policies or procedures they have in place, we say we’re in. And so that’s what we’ll do, whatever direction they go with the playoff.”

On young offensive line getting thrown in the fire last season

“It’s really somewhat unfair that a couple of those guys were even out there. They didn’t have any experience. Their bodies weren’t developed. They weren’t strong enough. And all of the butt whippings they took should help them this year. We’ve had a couple of adjustments. We’re already better just by depth chart. We’re already better. We haven’t played a game yet. We’ve got some depth. And hopefully, we can stay healthy. If we do, we don’t have to play musical chairs where a guy plays left tackle one play and right guard another.

“Not making any excuses for them, but I think it’s important that we’re fair to them based on their situation. And it’s almost like going on the playground in junior high and getting beat up four, five times. You learn to fight back or you just keep getting beat up. And these guys got beat up a lot. And I saw them start to fight back in the spring.”

On Shane Illingworth

“Shane is doing excellent. Shane is a really good football player with a really bright future. And you’ve covered us for a long time now. Our ability to change our style of play based on our quarterbacks is pretty common.

“And so we have areas that if Shane were in the game that plays that would be called that Spencer can execute, maybe that’s not his strong point. And we have some that Shane may execute that may not be as beneficial to him as they are to Spencer.

“He’s been fantastic. Great young man with a great work ethic. We’re extremely happy that he’s in our program.”

On if NIL has changed things for coaches

“The good news for us, we’re not really involved in it. We’ve hired a fantastic group to help our athletes in all sports at Oklahoma State. And I’m learning more about it every day. Again, I’m going to say that I don’t know enough about it to speak intelligently. I just know that it’s a lot, and that this group is working with our players to allow them to benefit for who they are and the direction this moves.

“I think we’ll all know a lot more about it a year from now. I’m not sure anybody really knows a lot about it based on what I’ve heard up to this point.”

On who he sees being the No. 1 running back and the running back room in general

“It’s interesting, for the first time in a while, we really feel like we have four or five players that we could hand the ball to and we’re very comfortable with them in the game. LD was fantastic. Dez would come in and make plays. Then we’d put a freshman in and he made plays for us.

“So now we have four or five guys that will get quality reps in August. And I’m excited because that position takes a lot of abuse physically. That’s the one position where you can get really beat up. And we can take some of that off those guys.

“Hopefully, we’re not handing it to one guy 18 or 20 times a game. Hopefully, we’re letting four guys carry it 10 or 12 times a game. Should be beneficial for them, their future and our football team.”

On if he is better at handling change after years of experience

“Well, there’s no question that patience has played a much more role in my daily operation than it has forever. I can only speak for myself in that the longer you do something you get better at it. You start to pick the battles that you want to fight and the ones you don’t think are worth it, you let it roll.

“So you’re talking about two different categories. The image and likeness and the playoff and all that talk, I don’t [know] enough about it to comment on it because I’m not really going to have a say-so or a factor in it anyway. So that falls in the category of whatever they say that we’re going to do, I’m good. I’m going to support it and go on down the road.

“With our new administration, with our president, our athletic director, I’m directly involved in that. And that’s a big deal. That’s why I’m excited about getting and having conversations and sitting down and coming to agreements on future and what can we do to continue to elevate Oklahoma State football and take it to levels that it’s never been before.

“And a new president, new AD and head football coach, good chance they’re the most marketable people in any college campus at a Power Five school. And the decisions they make certainly affect the university in a lot of ways. I’m excited about the direction we’re going and looking forward to sitting down and working together and finding ways to make Oklahoma State University better than it’s ever been before.”

On how having a good defense affects in-game decisions

“I’ve been very impressed with our defensive coordinator, Jim Knowles, and his staff, and his willingness to adjust to our league. I feel more comfortable with our defense going on the field than I have maybe in my first 12 to 14 years as a head coach. We played good third-down defense. I think Jim’s very innovative in his blitz packages.

“I think that we’ve simplified. We’ve gone with simplicity and repetition compared to trying to out-coach other people. I think that’s important. And I’m hoping, from what I’ve seen in the spring, that we’ll have the fastest defense that we’ve had since I’ve been a head coach, which again is important. You’ve got to be able to run and get guys down, gotta tackle. We tackled very well last year.

“So all of that can tie into confidence. Confidence makes you a better player. I don’t care what sport it is. And our defense is starting to develop a little confidence in themselves and it makes us a better football team.”

On how issues from last summer changed him as a coach

“I’m really the same person, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you ask. I think what I learned is to really listen to what’s out there and have compassion for patience and sitting down and thinking things through. Not necessarily my personality. I move forward. I move fast. I have things I believe in. And that’s the way it is.

“So I think some of the transition that we went through, honestly, as a country over the last year, in my situation, some patience, more of an ability to listen and make really quality decisions and not move so fast.

“The culture in our organization, our discipline, our toughness, our accountability, our structure, the demands that we have, that’s all stayed the same, because I’m a firm believer that young men that are between the ages of 18 and 23, they want discipline. They want structure. Respectfully, they want a plan. They want to be told what to do and they want to move in that direction. I believe that. That’s the way we’ve operated for the last 17 years.”

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