Mike Gundy's tone-deaf coronavirus rant shows why he's never leaving OK State

Pete Thamel
·7 min read

There’s little arguing the coaching acumen of Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. He’s won 67 percent of his games at Oklahoma State, a traditional have-not program that’s become a near-annual Big 12 contender as Gundy has led them to 14 consecutive bowl games.

In coaching industry parlance, Gundy has defied gravity for a long time in Stillwater. It’s the type of sustained performance at a second-tier school that should have enabled Gundy to launch his career to a blue-blood job, where his relentless offenses and innovative schemes could help build annual national championship contenders.

The near-annual reminder of why Gundy won’t be able to leave Oklahoma State – his penchant for bigotry undercutting his winning records – came on Tuesday.

In a nearly hour-long news conference that began with a racist remark, featured a handful of hilarious media conspiracy theories and lacked a fundamental understanding of the Big 12’s rules, Gundy put on a performance that even Liberty University’s leadership would have considered brazen and misguided. Gundy again showed why his antics will be forever shackled to Stillwater, the backwater Never Never Land where he can live and speak consequence free.

“Anything that you don’t want your coach to say, he did a great job of saying it,” said a Power Five athletic director of Gundy’s remarks. “This is living in a bubble and not understanding the world that we’re in right now.”

Even for the low standards Gundy’s established for irresponsible comments, his news conference appears destined to rewrite his Wiki history for ignorance. He mentioned that getting a “herd of healthy people” outside will help fight the virus. He threw out ideas that his players should be sequestered on campus.

He offered hilarious contrasts, telling people one minute they should Lysol the bottom of their shoes and then didn’t grasp the significance of carriers returning to the university. At one point, just after mentioning how the conoravirus attacks the lungs, Gundy said, “I don’t want to try and make this so much more different than the common flu.”

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy gestures as he answers a question during an NCAA college football media day in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy gestures as he answers a question during an NCAA college football media day in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The entire presser, Gundy placed a dunce cap perfectly on his own head. He was negligent to health concerns, ignorant of how the notion of sequestering his players would be received and set a May 1 return timetable for football employees that strains credulity.

Gundy decided to run tempo offense with his ignorance, calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” by the 11-second mark of the news conference. It’s a remark that’s both racist in intent and harmful when repeated out loud. (One expert, Harvey Dong of Cal-Berkeley, told The Washington Post of President Trump’s use of the phrase: “It’s racist and it creates xenophobia.”)

Gundy started with a 20-minute monologue that had him failing in attempts to be a scientist, news critic and leader. He then went on to say that he hoped testing would be widely available within four weeks, which would allow the 100 people who work with OSU football to get swabbed and return to work. This is highly unlikely to happen, as many with symptoms still can’t get tested. Maybe in four weeks we’ll have enough tests for offensive quality control analysts, but that seems a pinch naïve.

So did Gundy’s timetable, as his May 1 goal clearly ignored the Big 12’s directive, which has prohibited “organized, in-person team activities of any type, in any location” until May 31. That includes going to the office.

Gundy went on to say that the players need to return. (He said just three of the 105 Cowboy players remain in Stillwater.) “They are 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 years old and they are healthy and they have the ability to fight this virus off. If that is true, then we sequester them, and continue because we need to run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Most junior high kids in America right now have an understanding that isn’t how things are going to work. (And the sequestering isn’t going to happen, as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Yahoo Sports last week that college football isn’t going to happen without students returning to campus as well.)

Still, for a public figure of his stature to spread misinformation, xenophobic remarks and half-truths about a pandemic that’s killed more than 12,000 in the United States, including more than 1,900 on the day he popped off, is a wretched look for a university.

Oklahoma State’s response when asked for comment didn’t use the name Mike Gundy in it. There was no specific admonishment. It was the type of administrative ambivalence that enables Gundy’s behavior. OSU’s statement, which came from the university, drove home all the messages he failed to. “This virus is deadly and we will do our part at Oklahoma State to help blunt the spread.”

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy looks up at the scoreboard during a timeout in an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy looks up at the scoreboard during a timeout in an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma State has long looked past Gundy’s sins and welcomed the wins and the accompanying millions. They’ve incubated Gundy’s warped world by letting him live consequence free through his famous “I’m a man!” rant that was demeaning and bullying toward a local columnist. They let him joke about Ambien, rant about “the snowflake” when a player transferred and call a reporter on a conference call a “jackass” that’s “really hurting journalism.”

The journalism riff was especially rich considering Gundy’s news conference on Tuesday had some snippets that made actual journalism professors laugh out loud. Amid Gundy’s meandering remarks included three references to the “mainstream media” and another to the “national media,” criticizing the lack of positivity in news coverage and too much “finger pointing.”

Luckily, Gundy said he stumbled upon an unbiased news network. “It’s One America News,” he volunteered amid a 20-minute monologue. “It was so refreshing. They just report the news. There’s no commentary. There’s no opinions. There’s no left. There’s no right.”

Basically, Gundy’s news analysis is like a TV critic mistaking the Kardashians with The Golden Girls. “OAN News makes Fox News look like The New York Times,” said Joel Kaplan, the associate dean of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, after a hearty chuckle.

Gundy qualified his remarks at times, pointing out he’s not a doctor and that he’s looking for more positive stories out of the news broadcasts he’s watching. “That’s my personal opinion,” he said. “Everyone has a right to an opinion. My opinion is let’s get some of the positive things out so we can continue to fight this.”

The biggest positive for college football fans around the country should be a deep exhale. Mike Gundy’s xenophobic, imprecise and completely unprofessional news conferences won’t be coming to a campus near you. Schools have kicked the tires on Gundy, including Tennessee in recent years, but he knows leaving would mean changing.

Instead, he stays on the only campus that enables, fosters and welcomes his behavior. Mike Gundy has again reminded us why he’ll never leave his personal Never Never Land.

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