Every coach wants to be in a similar position. Yet, at the same time, it creates a problem that can be difficult to overcome.
Mike Gundy’s success at Oklahoma State has made his job harder.
Since 2009, the Cowboys have won 50 games, recording a 76.9 winning percentage and winning one Big 12 championship. During the same span, nine assistant coaches have left the program including West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and Southern Mississippi head coach Todd Monken. Only Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer remain from the 2009 staff, which coached a squad which finished 9-4 and earned a Cotton Bowl berth.
Time and time again Gundy has watched as guys who helped build the program into a Big 12 championship contender have walked out of the football offices at Boone Pickens Stadium, never to return. Former coaches like West Virginia’s Joe DeForest and Texas’ Joe Wickline were core contributors as OSU created the foundation in Stillwater, Okla.
“[You build a program] then you win and you lose them all, people come in and take them,” Gundy said. “It’s kind of double-edged sword, if you don’t win, you’re not going to be here anyway, if you do win, then people are going to take your coaches. So, hopefully you can find quality people to come in here and take over. That’s what we’ve had to do.”
The offensive coaching staff has taken the biggest hits with Holgorsen and Monken leaving for head coaching jobs after record-setting seasons in Stillwater. Wickline had been the lone constant throughout Gundy’s tenure before leaving to join Charlie Strong’s Texas staff after nine seasons at OSU.
Fans have watched as historic rivalries have disappeared during conference realignment as schools searched to expand their budgets. Gundy believes the infusion of money into college football has played a major role in the instability of his staff, or any staff that has enjoyed similar success.
“Money has changed the way that staffs are [maintained] in our game,” he said. “Money has changed everything. Guys can stay at one place for a year or two then double their money, just like that, so they move. What I’ve learned to do over a number of years is to learn to not take it personal.”
For the most part, Gundy and the Cowboys have weathered the storm. OSU has had at least one coach leave the program after every season for the past five years. They’ve won double-digit games the following season three times during that period as Gundy has brought in new blood like running backs coach Jemal Singleton and cornerbacks coach Van Malone.
Yet it can’t help but feel like the lack of continuity will catch up with the program at some point.
“We always worry about the continuity of the staff,” Gundy said. “A guy has an opportunity to better his career, his family and move on. We’ve had guys leave, Doug Meacham left, now he’s a coordinator in the Big 12.”
Which brings up yet another problem facing the Pokes. Gundy has watched several of the branches from his coaching tree land in his own backyard.
In the fall of 2010, Holgorsen, Wickline and Meacham sat in the same meeting room as offensive coaches for the Cowboys. This fall, all three coaches will be at other Big 12 schools, with Meacham as the offensive coordinator at TCU, Wickline as offensive coordinator at Texas and Holgorsen running the offense at WVU. And all three will be looking to expose the Cowboys’ young defense in 2014 with a measure of familiarity with OSU’s offense that will be uncommon for a conference rival.
“That’s a bit of an issue in itself,” Gundy said.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys just keep trucking forward.
With Wickline as the latest departure, Gundy has been happy with his decision to hire Bob Connelly to replace him as OSU’s offensive line coach. Connelly is an 18-year veteran with coaching stops at Alabama, UCLA and Arizona State.
“I like his demeanor,” Gundy said. “I like his ability to teach and coach, he’s very experienced. Believe it or not, when you hire a coach you never know what you’re getting until you get him. We do the best we can to try to get people who fit into our style and mix with the personality of our coaching staff. I’m interested in bringing in coaches who want to teach and coach the game, not want to scream and yell. I think he’s done a nice job mixing in with our staff.”
With OSU’s sustained success, replacing assistant coaches has become an annual post-signing day tradition in Stillwater. Gundy fully expects that tradition to continue.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to change with the direction our profession is going,” Gundy said. “The dollar changed everything and people can move in a heartbeat.”