Friday afternoon, roughly 24 hours before his Oklahoma State football team would rout Sam Houston State 39-3 in Stillwater, Mike Gundy told an Oklahoma City radio station that he’d had enough. He wanted to put his Sept. 23 postgame temper tantrum behind him so his Cowboys could get back to focusing on their season, rather than on the coach that would be introduced to thunderous applause as “America’s Coach” in Saturday’s pregame introductions on the OSU campus.
We’ll be happy to grant him his wish, but not before we examine the fundamental question that Gundy’s passionate rant probed during his much-celebrated YouTube moment: Should amateur athletes be off-limits to personal criticism in the media?
From a performance standpoint, the obvious answer is no. If a college quarterback goes 6 of 26 for 83 yards and three interceptions, he’s going to hear about it from fans, media, boosters and just about everyone else with a rooting interest in his program. After all, if a player lights up the scoreboard and can see his name plastered all over “SportsCenter” as a Heisman candidate, then he needs to be strong enough to handle the blame when it comes his way following a poor performance, right?
But on the personal side, how much should a college football player be expected to endure? Is it right for media outlets to take shots at young kids outside the boundaries of their play, especially when they are not being paid for their service to their universities? With the exception of players who break the law or who are involved in NCAA rules violations, the answer as Mike Gundy screamed it is NO. With apologies to both Otter and Bluto in “Animal House,” let me put it this way: Gundy is right. Psychotic, but absolutely right.
Gundy benched his starting quarterback prior to the Texas Tech game, which is what prompted the mean-spirited article in The Daily Oklahoman that lit the coach’s fuse. The columnist claimed that Bobby Reid’s play wasn’t the motivating factor in Gundy’s decision to start Zac Robinson in the game — but that it was his attitude. Reid was also ridiculed for getting nervous before games, and he was painted by the columnist as a “mama’s boy.”
Anyone who has ever played competitive football knows that the worst feeling in the world is being sent to the bench — for whatever reason. It’s embarrassing to be told you’re not good enough, even if it’s temporary, and to have to deal with that disappointment on top of the personal insults in an insensitive newspaper column is completely unnecessary. Now if Bobby Reid were a quarterback in the NFL, collecting enormous sums of money for his efforts, then maybe there’s no cause for a coach to come to his aid if his feelings get hurt. You’re making the cash … the critiques come with the territory. Even the personal ones.
But a college kid? No way. Especially if the facts about his supposed attitude problem cannot be verified.
Football coaches have long been at odds with media members, at almost every level, and Gundy’s problem with the Oklahoman probably wouldn’t even be news had his grievance been aired at a lower volume. This time, however, a coach decided it was time to take a public stand in defense of his players, and I say it’s about time. I’m certain Gundy’s players respected their leader before, but they’re ready to chew broken glass for him now.
Coach Gundy, we’ll let the story die, as you requested, but please know that the PA announcer in Stillwater had it right this weekend. You ARE America’s coach, because there are probablythousands of players in America right now who are wishing they played for a guy like you.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.