There’s drama brewing in Stillwater, and once again it’s between coach Mike Gundy and athletic director Mike Holder. The two Mikes have butted heads more than once over the past few years over contract negotiations, assistant salaries, and, to some degree, who gets credit for the program’s rise. All three issues of which super booster T. Boone Pickens has also had some opinions on. And when they fight, they tend to do so publicly.
The three eventually came together a year ago and made nice, which ended with Holder and Pickens renewing their support of Gundy and the program. So you might think the days of taking shots at one another in the media were behind them.
You would be wrong.
Holder went on Pistol Firing Blog’s podcast where he voiced some concerns about Gundy’s recruiting abilities.
“You’ve got to give credit to Mike Gundy,” Holder said. “He’s really matured into a difference-maker as a coach. I would approach recruiting a little differently than he does. I’d want to finish higher in those recruiting rankings than we consistently do. I think that ultimately puts a ceiling on what you’re able to achieve … I think sometimes we settle when we don’t have to.”
On the surface, the quote isn’t a big deal. It’s was just a tiny part of the interview, and it’s mostly praising Gundy. However, it’s June, so it’s going to get made into a big deal. The Oklahoman picked up the quote, which led to other media outlets latching onto it, and it’s now official, there’s drama in Stillwater.
— Mike Gundy (@CoachGundy) June 14, 2018
Admittedly, Gundy’s tweet could mean anything. Given the timing though, and since we’ve seen these public spats before, it’s more than curious.
Here’s the thing though, Holder isn’t wrong.
Over the last decade, Oklahoma State has averaged 9.6 wins a season. That’s a far cry from where the program was when Gundy took over. The Cowboys are a national brand now, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at their recruiting classes. The 2017 class ranks just 37th in the country, the 2016 class was 45th according to 247Sports, the 2015 class was 40th…you can see how this is trending. The Cowboys are routinely a top 20 team, but have a hard time cracking the top 40 in recruiting.
That’s a problem.
If you don’t think recruiting rankings matter and point to Texas to prove why, you’re wrong. Sorry, but you are, and there are three examples just within the Big 12 that prove why.
The first is Oklahoma. While the Longhorn’s highly-ranked recruiting classes haven’t led to success on the field as of late, for the Sooners, it has. They routinely have the first or second recruiting class in the conference and they expect to win the conference three out of every five years. To compare, despite both schools contending for the conference over the last few years, Oklahoma State has won the conference just once, in 2011. Since, the Sooners have been crowned Big 12 Champs four times in six years. In the end, the Sooner’s talent wins out.
On the other side of the scale is Kansas State. Despite Synder’s success at the school, the Wildcats haven’t picked up their recruiting. They rely on two star and low-ranked three star guys to do the things they need them to do for their system. Nobody does more with less that Snyder, and that’s incredibly admirable. Snyder will go down as one of the greatest of all-time. But what happens when he leaves? Well, in this case we already know. Ask a Wildcat fan about the Ron Prince years. The cupboard is bare for the next head coach who brings a whole new system, and the program suffers.
And lastly, look at TCU. Gary Patterson has done a phenomenal job of improving his recruiting as the program’s reputation rises. Patterson took over the program in 2000. From 2001 to 2003, the Frog’s average recruiting class was 61st in the country. From 2009 to 2011, just before TCU made the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12, Patterson’s class rank averaged 40th in the country. After the Frogs joined the Big 12, from 2012 to 2014, TCU’s average recruiting class improved to 36th. And now that TCU has pulled even with Oklahoma State and is proving to be a regular contender for the conference, Patterson is pushing ahead once again on the recruiting trail. The Frog’s last three recruiting classes have been 21st, 28th and then 25th in 2018. Patterson has used his success to improve the program’s recruiting, and thus has found even more success.
Now, in Gundy’s defense, going out and pulling higher rated talent is easier said than done. Without a stack of cash hiding under the table, you’re not going to start magically pulling 5-star talent.
There’s also a tremendous amount of risk when chasing a top prospect. The Cowboys have missed on some high profile recruits as of late, and missing on a guy can be devastating to a class. For one, there’s the wasted time and money spent chasing the recruit. There’s only so much in the recruiting budget, and now you’re behind the eight-ball in the recruiting search. To make matters worse, your second and third prospects might not like taking a back seat while you court a preferred target and end up committing elsewhere while you were gambling on a commitment that never came.
I don’t blame Gundy for being a little gun shy. After all, they’ve had plenty of success finding underrated guys and developing them.
In the end, we shouldn’t make too much of Holder’s comments. They aren’t nearly as biting as they’re being made out to be. He’s largely supportive of Gundy and the job he’s done in Stillwater. However, if Oklahoma State wants to take the next step as a program, then Gundy needs to take a page out of Patterson’s play book and be a little more aggressive on the recruiting trail.