Despite adversity, Gundy keeps OSU contending

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
12:09
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

In some quarters, his image remains framed by his celebrated postgame outburst more than two years ago.

 
 Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIRE
 Mike Gundy has the Cowboys at 6-1 despite being forced to replace some of his top playmakers.
But Mike Gundy, now 42, has moved way past the popular perception of that tirade to become the best coach in the Big 12 to this point of the season.

His Oklahoma State team entered the season with more expectations than at any time in the program’s recent history. Those hopes only grew after the team's victory over Georgia in the season opener boosted them to No. 5 in the nation.

But even after a loss to Houston in the following game that turned on two tipped passes, Gundy has persevered over a unique set of challenges unlike any he has ever faced during his coaching tenure.

The Cowboys have overcome the loss of Kendall Hunter, the 2008 Big 12 leading rusher who hasn’t played since Sept. 12 because of an ankle injury.

Dez Bryant, the program’s preseason All-American candidate at wide receiver and punt returner, played in only three games before he was ruled ineligible over his dalliance with former NFL standout Deion Sanders.

The Cowboys learned Tuesday that Bryant won’t return this season, just adding another obstacle to challenging for their first Big 12 South title.

“We hope that our plan and our scheme is far enough along that we can have some variation [in players],” Gundy told reporters. “The thing you always worry about as a coach is, ‘Is your plan for the week good enough and then can your players step up and make some plays?’

The Cowboys have done just that since the loss of Bryant and Hunter, two of their top three playmakers.

Keith Toston has emerged as a consistent producer in Hunter's featured back role, producing 606 rushing yards to rank fourth in the conference.

Bryant caught a higher percentage of his team's completions than any receiver in the conference last season. But in his absence Hubert Anyiam has become the featured receiver, leading the team with 25 receptions. Seven other players have caught at least eight passes this season as the Cowboys have become more balanced without Bryant.

Quarterback Zac Robinson has been the constant, keeping the team together despite all of the turmoil and personnel losses.

But Robinson admits that the notion of playing so well without Bryant and Hunter would have been a little stunning to him if he had considered it before the season started.

“I would have thought you were crazy,” Robinson said. “With some of the guys who are stepping up and producing for us, some started as third-string players. It’s been great to see them step up. At the beginning of the year, who would have thought they would have done this? But it’s a tribute to their hard work.”

Those personnel losses are only a start. Gundy kicked off wide receiver Damian Davis and Jeremy Broadway for breaking team rules. He also suspended fellow wide receiver Bo Bowling indefinitely this spring while he faces charges of possessing marijuana and anabolic steroids.

Projected starting tight end Jamal Mosley left the team just before the start of the season amid a police investigation that has yet to produce any results.

And Gundy’s defense has been wracked with injuries. Cornerback Perrish Cox and defensive end Jeremiah Price both have missed substantial time this season.

"At some point, you’d like to not talk about adversity and talk about the future, but that’s become a topic,” Gundy said.

Gundy's perseverance has caught the attention of Texas coach Mack Brown.

"I really admire Mike and their staff for what they've done," Brown said. "They just move forward. They don't talk about it. Anyiam has got 19 receptions the last two games, so he has stepped in for Dez.

"Keith Toston was an alternating back anyway, and he's done a great job for Kendall Hunter. I think Mike and that staff have done one of the great coaching jobs this year in the country."

The Cowboys are now 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big 12 South, a half-game behind the Longhorns. They are 14th in the latest BCS poll and have all of their goals still in front of them.

Gundy credits his team for its resiliency.

“When you have as many off-the-field distractions and injuries or things come up that we have this year, you have to have leaders other than the coaches,” Gundy said. “That’s just the chemistry of your team and they enjoy being around each other and enjoy practicing. So no matter what happens, they’ll buy in and go play hard.”

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